Sweden’s Cecilia Malmström and Ireland’s Phil Hogan, the European Commission’s trade and agricultural commissioners respectively, held high-level talks with Mercosur in Brussels this week to iron out the remaining crinkles in the EU-Mercosur trade agreement.
Both parties are rushing to get the controversial deal done before Brazil’s election campaign kicks off at the start of March.
After the EU secured major free trade deals with Canada and Japan last year, it is keen to complete another as it combats trade protectionism in the form of Brexit and US President Donald Trump’s ‘America First’ policy.
Talks reignited after stalling in 2017
A political framework for the EU-Mercosur agreement was rumoured to be announced on the sidelines of the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) ministerial conference in Buenos Aires in December 2017. But mounting pressure from France and Ireland slammed the brakes on an announcement being made.
France and Ireland have lobbied hard against the deal and were furious when the EU offered a 70,000 tonne tariff rate quota for beef exports to Mercosur. This would allow the likes of Brazil and Uruguay to ship cheap beef to Europe, something French and Irish farmers fear could price them out of the market. As a result, both have been highly critical of the deal, and Brazil’s recent rotten meat scandal has provided them with plenty of ammunition.
In the latest episode of the long-running saga, the Irish Farmers Association president Joe Healy has accused trade commissioner Malmström of conceding too much ground to the Brazilians, undermining EU policy and the bloc’s shared environment and animal welfare values.
“There is a clear contradiction at EU level,” Healy fumed. “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.
“How can Commissioner Malmström ignore the fact that the growth in Brazilian beef exports is driven by the destruction of the Amazon rainforests? The carbon footprint of a kg of Brazilian beef is four times that of EU production. Brazil has 226m cattle to Ireland’s 6m. There are no controls on animal welfare in Brazil. Slave labour is widespread in rural areas and in the beef sector.”
Malmström’s team could not be reached to comment at the time of writing.