The trade talks are being held behind closed door between the Ecuadorian delegation led by Foreign Trade Minister Francisco Rivadeneira and that of the European Union, in the fishing port city of Manta.
The talks, which are expected to wrap up Thursday, will center around the thorny issues of public purchases and intellectual property rights, according to a source from the Ecuadorian delegation.
A major issue will be the widespread sale of counterfeit music and movie CD’s in Ecuador. The business employees thousands and, even though it is not technically legal under Ecuadorian law, the government has been reluctant to shut it down. The business sells cd’s for less than 10% of legal market value, with no proceeds going to copyright owners.
The issue has been a sticking point over the years between Ecuador, the U.S. and European countries.
The two sides held the first round of the talks in January in Brussels, Belgium after a five-year suspension due to disagreements.
In addition to intellectual property issues, exports of bananas and shrimp will be a major topic.
“Ecuador continues to be the largest exporter of fruit (bananas) to the European market, despite the fact that there are competitor countries which have better access conditions to that market,” the ministry said. “The trade in shrimp has also grown rapidly,” he added.
The EU is the second-largest market for Ecuador’s non-oil exports, making a trade deal with the bloc highly important for the South American nation.
According to Ecuador’s National Federation of Exporters (Fedexport), a trade deal could boost exports by some $300 million over the next three years, and the Fedexport hopes to see a final deal in place by December, when an EU preferential tariff scheme for Ecuadorian products is set to expire.
The scheme, called SGP Plus, allows Ecuador’s exports, mainly agricultural and fishing products, to enter the bloc’s 28 member nations free of tariffs.
Ecuador’s total exports to the EU increased 24 percent to hit 3. 051 billion dollars last year while the EU exports to Ecuador rose 0.3 percent to reach 2.78 billion dollars, leaving Ecuador with a trade surplus of 271 million dollars, according to the ministry’s figures.
Protesters picketed outside the Manta Oro Verde hotel, site of the negotiations, demanding that the government not sign a “free trade” agreement.
Photo caption: A CD vendor at the Feria Libre market in Cuenca.