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Published: Thursday December 19, 2013 MYT 1:25:02 AM
Updated: Thursday December 19, 2013 MYT 1:25:49 AM

Venezuela fully joins trade bloc Mercosur with Paraguay vote

ASUNCION (Reuters) - Paraguay's Congress on Wednesday approved Venezuela's entry into the South American trade bloc Mercosur, shoring up relations among member nations ahead of free-trade talks with Europe early next year.

The lower house's vote to allow Venezuela into Mercosur follows a similar vote by the Senate last week and lifts the last obstacle to the Caribbean oil producer's full integration.

Venezuela was accepted to Mercosur last year while Paraguay was suspended because of the impeachment of leftist President Fernando Lugo - a move considered anti-democratic by the bloc that also includes Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay.

Mercosur allowed Paraguay to rejoin after Horacio Cartes was elected president in August, but he insisted Congress give its official blessing to Venezuela's membership before rejoining - part of a bid to smooth out the diplomatic rift in the group.

Paraguay's Congress had previously rejected Venezuela's incorporation.

Mercosur and the European Union are expected to discuss conditions for signing a free-trade pact at the start of 2014 - talks that have dragged on for almost two decades.

The Mercosur-European Union deal would encompass 750 million people and $130 billion in annual trade.

Paraguay is expected to have fully reintegrated into Mercosur in time to participate in the group's summit in Caracas on January 17.

(Writing By Mitra Taj; Editing by Theodore d'Afflisio)

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