Revamped Mercosur deal poses new threat to agriculture sector

Brussels Briefing

A sign reading
A sign reading "Mercosur = a gift to multinationals" is pictured on a tractor during a protest by Belgian farmers outside a meeting of European Union agriculture ministers in Brussels, Belgium on Monday. Photo: REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

Sarah Collins

European farmers are back on the offensive as a trade deal with the South American Mercosur bloc inches closer.

EU trade chief Cecilia Malmström said last week that a deal with Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay should be possible within the European Commission's current mandate, which expires in November.

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And EU agriculture chief Phil Hogan told farm ministers at a meeting earlier this month that "there is good momentum" and that Mercosur countries are "ready to move".

EU and Mercosur trade officials last met on May 13-17 in Buenos Aires, where there were still deep divisions over state subsidies and government procurement contracts.

The EU is seeking greater market access for its cars and car parts, dairy produce and better protections for speciality European food and drink. But farmers fear that agriculture will be sacrificed in order to do a better deal for the automotive sector.

'Dead end'

EU farmers' federation Copa and Cogeca says a Mercosur deal would be a "dead end" for farmers and citizens, and says European producers will be "undermined" by cheaper and less-regulated products from abroad.

"The EU has already granted substantial market access on sensitive agricultural products, without getting much in return," said Pekka Pesonen, Copa and Cogeca secretary general.

Pesticides

"How can the European Commission justify to EU farmers and citizens that it plans to import further agricultural goods from Brazil a few months after Jair Bolsonaro's government authorised over 150 new pesticides, while the same Commission proposes the exact opposite strategy for its producers?" the group said.

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They want no further concessions to be made on sensitive sectors, including beef, sugar, poultry, ethanol, rice and orange juice, particularly given the existing pressures of climate change, Brexit and a smaller EU agricultural budget post-2020.

Mr Hogan admitted earlier this month that there is "much still to be done" on the Mercosur side to reassure Europe's farmers.

Trade talks with Mercosur began in 1999, but broke down for almost a decade, largely over agricultural market access.

The current talks have been progressing since the EU decided to increase its beef import quota offer to Mercosur in 2017. It now stands at 99,000 tonnes.

EU trade ministers were due to review progress at a meeting in Brussels yesterday.

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