EU official sees trade deal with Mercosur toward year-end

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 on January 29. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

Ciaran Moran and Maximiliano Rizzi

The European Union and South America’s Mercosur bloc could reach a trade agreement this year, the president of the European Council said on Monday, following tensions between the two regional blocs during negotiations last month.

“We think we’re going to end negotiations toward the end of the year,” said Ekaterina Zaharieva, the foreign affairs minister for Bulgaria, which now holds the rotating presidency for the EU.

“But of course, it’s much more important to have a good agreement than a worse but faster one,” Zaharieva added in an interview with Reuters at the G20 meeting in Buenos Aires.

The latest round of trade talks, in April, made some progress on car exports but ended with finger-pointing about who was holding up a deal.

Trade talks between the two regional blocs have intensified in recent years following more than a decade of stagnation, but plans to close a deal in late 2017 were derailed by differences over South American agricultural exports.

Mercosur includes the grain- and beef-exporting nations of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.

The IFA PresidentJoe Healy has said Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan cannot allow Commissioner Malmstrom to make any additional offers to the Brazilians in the Mercosur trade negotiations.

He 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.

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

Meanwhile, IFA National Livestock Chairman Angus Woods said talk of the EU Commission renegotiating existing TRQ (tariff rate quotas) to give further concessions to the Brazilians by giving them access for more extensive meat cuts is nothing short of a three-card trick and that farmers won’t fall for this.

“Commissioner Hogan must stop this slight of hand by Commissioner Malmstrom and not allow the EU conceding on the double” he said.

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

He said, “One arm of the Commission is prepared to do this deal and undermine the environment and animal welfare, while European farmers are lectured on climate change and maintaining the highest welfare standards.” 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.”

With Brexit, the EU beef market would be 116% self-sufficient. Angus Woods said to negotiate a trade deal with Mercosur at this time makes no sense whatsoever. 

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