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21st Jan 2019

EU farming nations oppose Mercosur talks ahead of key summit

  • Development NGOs have also raised concerns over aspects of the proposed trade deals (Photo: Olmovich)

A group of ten EU member states have indicated their opposition to the resumption of South American trade talks, just days before European and Latin American leaders are to sit down for a major summit in Madrid.

Led by France, the ten states on Tuesday (11 May) said the resumption of talks with the Mercosur trading bloc, comprised of Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay, sent "a highly negative signal" to Europe's struggling farm sector.

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The European Commission last week announced its decision to restart the talks, suspended in 2004, citing "clear economic benefits" for both sides from an eventual deal.

But Europe's farming nations fear the agricultural might of Argentina and Brazil, two of the world's largest beef producers, and say no further concessions can be granted above those already given under the Doha round of multilateral trade talks.

The ten nations propose to submit a joint statement to EU agricultural ministers next Monday, reports AFP, the same day a bilateral EU-Mercosur summit is scheduled to take place in Madrid.

A statement from the ten opposing the resumption of talks, Austria, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Luxembourg, Poland, Romania and Cyprus, read: "We regret that it has been taken without prior political debate with the Council, and without a debate on the possible economic impact of an agreement."

"The ambitions and interests of both parties do not appear to allow progress to be made in these negotiations, which were begun in 1999, unless further concessions are made on agriculture by Europe, and this would be unacceptable," its continues.

Lat-Am summits and trade complications

The latest dispute will add to already existing frictions between Europe and central and southern American regions.

Madrid has used its six months at the helm of the EU presidency to push forward a number of bilateral trades deals with its former colonies, but the commission was last week forced to suspend talks with the central American trade bloc due to "a number of outstanding differences."

It now looks increasingly unlikely that the deal will be initialed in Madrid next week at a bilateral meeting between the two sides on 19 May, despite the EU apparently waiving concerns related to a coup d'etat in Honduras last June, following which there were widespread reports of human rights abuses.

A majority of Latin America's leaders had threatened to boycott the main EU-Latin America and the Caribbean Summit on Tuesday (18 May) in protest against the attendance of the new conservative Honduran leader, Porfirio Lobo.

In the end, Mr Lobo said he would skip the main event to enable it to go ahead. The EU will be represented by European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, Commission President José Manuel Barroso, EU High Representative Catherine Ashton and trade commissioner Karel De Gucht.

Bilateral trade talks between the EU and Peru and Colombia were wrapped up in March, in time to be initialed next week, but they too have proved problematic.

Endowed with fresh powers under the EU's new rulebook, the Lisbon Treaty, a large number of MEPs have signaled they will refuse to give their final approval to a bilateral deal with Bogota until the country improves its human rights record. Colombia currently has the highest rate of trade unionist murders in the world.

Bolivia and Ecuador had formerly been part of bloc-to-bloc talks between the EU and Andean Nations, but the two dropped out, resulting in the commission initiating bilateral discussions with Peru and Colombia instead, a decision criticised by Bolivian vice-minister for foreign affairs Pablo Guzman in the European Parliament last month.

"Since the start of bilateral talks we have had something of a crisis in the Andean community," he told MEPs in the parliament's trade committee.

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