Farmers Unite Against Mercosur Trade Talks

EU - France's leading farmers' organisation has called on President Sarkozy to pressure upon the European Community to impede the re-launching of negotiations for a free trade agreement with Mercosur. Mercosur member countries are Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, with Chile and Bolivia as Mercosur-associated countries.
calendar icon 6 May 2010
clock icon 4 minute read

"The cost for European agriculture would be too high," said an official statement from the National Federation of Agricultural Workers' Unions (FNSEA) addressed to President Nicolas Sarkozy requesting the French government to press the European Commission to stop President José Manuel Barroso's initiative that also has the support from the Spanish presidency of European Union.

Mercopress reports that FNSEA warned that it would never accept agriculture to become the "bargain chip" of trade or political negotiations adding that a free trade agreement with Mercosur "would cause numerous problems" to the European agriculture, particularly beef and poultry farmers. The union estimate losses to European beef farmers in the range of €3 to 5 billion.

The FNSEA statement said: "Relations are already unbalanced" because of "competition distortions" caused by the different social, sanitary and veterinary regulations not only between the EU and Mercosur but also among Mercosur country members. It's a question of not adding further misbalances" to the "flagrant situation" that already exist said the powerful farmers' organisation. FNSEA reacted immediately to the European executive announcement of talks' resumption with Mercosur, stalled since 2004.

At the end of April, thousands of French grain farmers protested in Paris demanding the EU takes action to boost cereal prices. Up to 10,000 farmers descended on Paris in 1,300 tractors with the protest timed for the eve of the visit by EU farm commissioner, Dacian Ciolos to the French capital.

According to Mercopress, Mr Barroso defended the initiative, saying that "a successful result could offer benefits in creation of jobs and growth for both sides". He argued that gains to the EU economy from increased access to Mercosur markets for things like telecommunications, financial services and cars would outweigh losses felt by the EU agriculture sector.

It is understood that Mr Ciolos is against the plan to reopen the talks that previously collapsed in 2004. Spain, which currently holds the six-month rotating EU presidency chair, expects that in the coming Latin America, the Caribbean and the European Union Summit (LAC-EU) – on 17 to 18 May in Madrid – it can bolster a commitment from both sides to conclude the bilateral talks in a near future.

However, an internal note circulated by the EC notes that France, the UK, Romania, Hungary and Poland would be especially badly hit, with the poultry sector accounting for nine to 12 per cent of total agricultural output in these countries. In some regions, the concentration of poultry production is more than 70 per cent of agricultural output. The note also points to serious losses for beef producers in Belgium, France, the UK, Spain and Ireland.

Mercopress reports that another EU farmers' group, COPA, remains deeply sceptical. "A bilateral trade agreement with Mercosur would cause a huge rise in beef, pork, poultry, wheat, citrus fruit and juice imports to the EU," said COPA president, Padraig Walshe. "This would lead to a substantial contraction in the EU agriculture sector, threatening 28 million jobs."

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