By Daniela Desantis
ASUNCION (Reuters) - Paraguayan President Santiago Pena said on Monday he will break off negotiations between Mercosur and the European Union if the parties do not reach a deal before Dec. 6, when Brazil will hand over the bloc's presidency to Paraguay.
Pena has criticized the progress of talks between the two trade blocs since before he took office in August. A week before he was sworn in, he told Reuters the EU had demonstrated, via its proposals, that it had no clear interest in moving forward.
The deal between Mercosur - the trade bloc composed of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay - and the EU hit snags in 2019 after a so-called side letter from the EU requiring environmental safeguards.
Pena has previously criticized the addendum, and Mercosur in mid-September presented a counter-proposal to the side letter.
The Paraguayan leader said he had told Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in a meeting last week in New York, where they traveled for the United Nations General Assembly, that he planned to seek alternative options.
"If he does not close, I am not going to continue (the talks) in the next semester," Pena told a press conference, adding he would dedicate the time instead to seeking trade agreements with other regions.
"I am sure we will reach a deal with other regions very quickly," he added, pointing to Singapore and the United Arab Emirates as potential trade partners.
Lula, as well as EU Ambassador to Paraguay Javier Garcia de Viedma, have said they believe an EU-Mercosur deal was feasible by the end of 2023.
"I think we are very close," Garcia de Viedma told reporters on Monday. "If there is political will from the negotiators, I think we will manage it by the end of this year."
(Reporting by Daniela Desantis Writing by Sarah Morland; Editing by Mark Potter)