BRUSSELS HAS tabled a new trade offer to the Mercosur countries of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, as the two blocs seek to open up access to each other‘s agricultural and industrial markets.

The move poses a particular threat to EU beef producers, with the four countries offered big increases in their quotas for top-quality Hilton beef.

It is understood that the deal would allocate a 100,000t quota to the four countries – 50,000t up front and the balance dependant on the outcome of the current World Trade Organisation talks.

This is way up on the 40,300t of chilled, boneless cuts that currently come in from these four countries at just 20% duty.

But the latest offer on agriculture is little different from the one made last May, which also suggested 100,000t.

It appears that recent reports suggesting the quota would be raised to 156,000t have proved ill-founded.

“We always said that we would revise our initial offer to reflect the level of ambition shown by the Mercosur countries,” said a commission spokesman.

Having received the latest Mercosur offer last weekend, it appears the commission was not impressed.

“We have made improvements such as to accelerate the dismantling of tariffs and to extend the cuts of beef that may be used for certain products,” said the spokesman.

“But overall the tonnages are much the same.

“And we have made clear conditions, such as requiring adequate protection for EU products with a geographic indication (such as Stilton cheese or Parma ham).”

According to a commission statement, overall the offer now on the table would eliminate tariffs on over 90% of industrial goods from the Mercosur countries.

Most foods imports would also be duty free.

Only sensitive products such as maize, feed wheat, pigmeat, poultry, dairy produce and bio-ethanol would be subject to tariff quotas.

“The EU is also ready to give Mercosur better access to imports of processed agricultural products,” said the statement

Last weekend the Mercosur countries made an improved offer to the EU that would ensure that 90% of imports would be freed of duty, including better access for financial services, telecommunications and shipping.

Trade between the two regions is put at €37bn (£25bn), with coffee, soya, orange juice, tobacco and meat all important items.

The two sides hope to wrap a deal up by the end of this month, when the current trade commissioner Pascal Lamy stands down.

Most Brussels commentators believe this is optimistic, with the Mercosur offer still not going far enough in the area of industrial tariffs.