French pull back from putting brakes on Mercosur trade deal
Opponents of a trade deal with the South American Mercosur bloc have placed their faith in French president Emmanuel Macron scuppering it before the year's end.
But Mr Macron failed to put the brakes on the Mercosur negotiations during a meeting of EU leaders last week.
EU leaders instead agreed to press ahead with talks. European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker says the bloc will "continue to do everything" to conclude a deal before the end of the year.
"It's important," Mr Juncker told reporters after the Brussels summit. "We underestimate the importance of Mercosur for the European Union."
The EU estimates a deal with Mercosur could double EU exports to the region - mainly cars and chemicals - which stand at €66bn a year. It says the deal would eliminate €4bn a year in tariffs and knock down regulatory barriers to the lucrative market.
But there are at least 11 countries - including Ireland and France - who oppose the EU's latest offer to Mercosur on beef and other sensitive agricultural products, which they say goes too far too fast. Opponents say that opening up the market to cheaper beef from Mercosur, at the same time as embarking on trade deals with New Zealand and Australia, will hit farmers hard.
EU beef imports from the South American bloc are currently estimated at around 220,000 tonnes a year. The latest offer to Mercosur, tabled at talks earlier this month, would lower tariffs on 70,000 tonnes of beef.
EU leaders did not get into detailed talks on trade at the summit, which was overtaken by debates on migration, Brexit, tax and the future of Europe. A next round of talks with Mercosur is due to take place early next month.