A senior Argentine official was found dead in Montevideo, Uruguay, during a summit meeting of the South American trade group Mercosur.

Ivan Heyn, who was Argentina's undersecretary for foreign trade, was found hanging at the Radisson Hotel downtown, police spokesman Jose Luis Rondan told a news conference.

He said police were trying to determine whether it was a suicide, a crime or an accident. The circumstances surrounding the death  remain unclear.

Following the re-election of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner in October Heyn, an economist and former student leader, was appointed as undersecretary for foreign trade.

The news shocked members of the Mercosur summit, which has been attended by the presidents of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela. The main issue of discussion is whether to admit Venezuela as a full member. This has been so far blocked by opposition in the Paraguayan parliament. The agenda of the summit also includes deciding on strategies for protecting their economies from global instability.

The summit approved a free-trade deal with the Palestinian Authority. Already Palestine is recognized as an independent state by the Mercosur members.