Long-running attempts to forge a trade deal between the EU and the Mercosur South America bloc are under threat from farming protests in France.
Media reports suggested French President Emmanuel Macron has told the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, that it is impossible to conclude trade-deal negotiations at the present time. The country’s Prime Minister Gabriel Attal is also said to have vetoed any deal in the current climate.
However, news agency Reuters quoted the EC today (30 January) as saying that it was continuing to pursue a trade agreement with the Mercosur countries. .
“The discussions are continuing and the European Union continues to fulfill its objective of achieving an agreement that respects our sustainability goals and respects our sensitivities, particularly in agriculture,” a Commission spokesperson was quoted as saying.
Earlier, fellow news agency Bloomberg, citing people familiar with the matter, reported that the French president contacted EC President Ursula Von Der Leyen last week with a plea to end the current round of negotiations.
French politicians are under pressure because of a dispute by the country’s farmers, who argue they are being hit by falling incomes, environmental regulations, rising red tape, and, crucially as far as the EU-Mercosur talks are concerned, competition from imports.
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Their protests have ramped up in intensity in recent days with hundreds of tractors converging on Paris in an effort to blockade key routes into the French capital and halt the flow of produce heading for supermarket shelves.
Reports say 15,000 police have been mobilised to stop tractors entering Paris and other cities.
The BBC quoted Arnaud Rousseau, the head of France’s largest farmers’ union, the National Federation of Agricultural Holders’ Unions (FNSEA), as saying the protests would continue everywhere in France “with the very concrete objective of having emergency measures announced” – especially with regard to food prices and reciprocity of rules.
Attempts to seal a trade agreement between the EU and Mercosur – a bloc formed by Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay – go back several decades. A text was signed in 2019 but needs ratification from all EU member states and France has repeatedly voiced concerns about the terms of the mooted deal.
A report from Reuters, before today’s update, suggested that, following President Macron’s intervention, the latest round of trade deal talks in Brazil, which started last week, have ended.
It quoted a French presidential adviser as telling reporters that [Macron] “has very firmly reiterated to the Commission the fact it was impossible to conclude talks in these conditions”.
France’s concerns about the EU-Mercosur deal include what it sees as a lack of equivalence in environmental standards between Europe and South America. It is also seeking assurances on climate change and deforestation.
Reports suggest Macron is set to reiterate his opposition to the deal during a summit of EU leaders in Brussels later this week.
Just Food has asked the EC for claarification on whether the talks are continuing.