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Wednesday 25 April 2018

Beef farmers on alert as Brazilian President says Mercosur, EU 'a step away' from trade deal

French farmers drive their tractors on the A7 highway to protest changes in underprivileged farm area’s mapping and against Mercosur talks, in PIerre-Benite near Lyon, France, February 21, 2018. Message reads,
French farmers drive their tractors on the A7 highway to protest changes in underprivileged farm area’s mapping and against Mercosur talks, in PIerre-Benite near Lyon, France, February 21, 2018. Message reads, "Mercosur - The destruction of French agriculture". REUTERS/Emmanuel Foudrot
Ciaran Moran

Ciaran Moran

Brazilian President Michel Temer said on Wednesday that Mercosur and the European Union were “a step away” from signing a free trade agreement.

Temer’s comment, made during an economic council meeting in Brasilia, came a day after several European officials attending a G20 summit in Buenos Aires said that significant obstacles remained to the long-delayed trade deal.

Meanwhile, Spanish Economy Minister Roman Escolano told reporters on Tuesday that the final obstacles to a long-delayed trade deal between the European Union and South American trade bloc Mercosur can be overcome.

“Spain is very clearly committed to bringing this project, which we have negotiated for many years, to an end in the coming weeks or months,” Escolano said on the sidelines of a meeting of the G20 finance ministers and central bank governors in Buenos Aires, adding that he had discussed the deal with counterparts from the EU, Argentina, and Brazil.

French farmers drive their tractors on the A7 highway to protest changes in underprivileged farm area’s mapping and against Mercosur talks, in Solaize near Lyon, France, February 21, 2018. REUTERS/Emmanuel Foudrot
French farmers drive their tractors on the A7 highway to protest changes in underprivileged farm area’s mapping and against Mercosur talks, in Solaize near Lyon, France, February 21, 2018. REUTERS/Emmanuel Foudrot

However, European officials said this week that significant obstacles remain to a long-delayed trade deal between the European Union and South American trade bloc Mercosur, even as South American officials expressed optimism a deal would be finalized soon.

On the sidelines of a gathering among the finance ministers and central bank governors of the G20 countries in Buenos Aires, an Argentine Treasury Ministry official said the talks would finish in the first half of this year. An initial target for December of last year was pushed back after EU countries said they needed more time.

“There are very few points left,” the official said, adding that Argentine Treasury Minister Nicolas Dujovne would meet with French finance minister Bruno Le Maire on Tuesday.

Farmers in France and some other EU members are resistant to an expected increase in beef and biofuel imports from Mercosur, which also includes Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. Le Maire said European producers were concerned about unfair competition.

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“For the time (being) the negotiation on the Mercosur (deal) for different reasons is blocked,” Le Maire told reporters. “You cannot explain to a producer that he has to stick to very constraining rules in Germany, France, Spain or Italy, and we’ll (import) exactly the same good that will not be produced in the same manner on another continent.”

An EU diplomat said Mercosur resistance to European proposals on automobile exports and geographic product indicators were also sticking points. Europe has also pushed for its companies to gain better access to government procurement contracts within Mercosur.

Trucks line up before cattle are loaded into the NADA vessel in the port of Santos, Brazil, December 2, 2017. Picture taken December 2, 2017. REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker
Trucks line up before cattle are loaded into the NADA vessel in the port of Santos, Brazil, December 2, 2017. Picture taken December 2, 2017. REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker

“I blame the Mercosur side more for this as they spent all of their energy moaning about the lack of ambition only to find that they hadn’t cleared their lines with their domestic producers,” the source said, adding that the issue was “not beef.”

An official in Brazil’s foreign ministry disputed Le Maire’s characterization of the negotiations as “blocked,” noting that France was not a party to the negotiations, led by the European Commission.

IFA President Joe Healy said Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan cannot allow EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom to make any additional offers to the Brazilians in the Mercosur trade negotiations.

Joe Healy said "Commissioner Malmstrom has already gone way too far in her reckless sell out of European beef farmers for the benefit of Brazilian big business and the European auto sector.

The IFA President accused Commissioner Malmstrom of being naive and of being misled by the Brazilians in the trade talks.

“The only thing we have seen from Commissioner Malmstrom in these negotiations is give away after give away of the European beef sector, with little or nothing in return. The Commissioner has already capitulated to the Brazilians in these negotiations, moving from 45,000t to 70,000t and now reports from Paraguay that the Brazilians are looking for way more.”

French farmers drive their tractors on the A7 highway to protest changes in underprivileged farm area’s mapping and against Mercosur talks, in PIerre-Benite near Lyon, France, February 21, 2018. Message reads,
French farmers drive their tractors on the A7 highway to protest changes in underprivileged farm area’s mapping and against Mercosur talks, in PIerre-Benite near Lyon, France, February 21, 2018. Message reads, "Mercosur - The destruction of French agriculture". REUTERS/Emmanuel Foudrot

IFA National Livestock Chairman Angus Woods said Commissioner Hogan has to face down the Trade Commissioner and insist that the EU does not give any more concessions to the Brazilians.

He accused the Trade Commissioner of blatantly undermining European policy and values on the environment and animal welfare.

“One arm of the Commission is prepared to do this deal and undermine the environment and animal welfare, while European farmers are asked to play their part on climate change and maintain the highest welfare standards.”

REUTERS/Bruno Kelly
REUTERS/Bruno Kelly

He said Irish beef production is four times more carbon efficient than Brazil where growth is driven on the back of destruction of the rainforests.

“The negotiating strategy flies in the face of everything that the EU stands for, and what is happening in terms of Brexit. Beef is more important to Ireland than any other member state. Commissioner Hogan cannot agree to a Mercosur deal involving a major increase in substandard beef imports from Brazil at the same time as we face into the serious challenges of Brexit,” he said.

Additional reporting from Reuters


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