EU trade changes must not hit farming, MEPs warn

Plans to reduce trade barriers between the EU and South America must not damage agriculture in Europe, Brussels diplomats have warned.

In a European Parliament resolution approved on Tuesday (8 March), MEPs criticised proposals to reduce trade barriers between the EU and the Mercosur group of South American countries.

The plans, which are due to be debated by the European Commission next week, would open up industrial markets in Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina and Paraguay.

But the move would cost agricultural markets billions of euros, with the beef sector alone facing losses of up to €25bn (£21.5bn) in lost trade.

The resolution urges the commission not to make concessions at the expense of EU agriculture and says an impact assessment should be carried out before any negotiations begin.

Drafted by the Parliament’s Agricultural Committee, the resolution adds that MEPs were “strongly critical” of the commission for resurrecting the Mercosur talks – which had previously stalled in 2004 and 2006 – without first holding discussions with them.

It also says they have serious concern about the impact on the EU farm sector of a trade agreement and calls on the commission to protect farmers’ interests.

Ireland East MEP Mairead McGuinness, a member of the Parliament’s Agricultural Committee, said there was concern the commission was “hell bent on sacrificing agriculture” for trade in other areas, with no concern about the direct impact such an approach would have on the industry, consumers or the environment.

Speaking in a debate in Strasbourg on Monday (7 March), Mrs McGuinness said a number of ministers were concerned about the pace of the Mercosur talks and the unwillingness of the commission to fully engage with agricultural concerns.

“Food products are not the same as cars and trucks – food security is important for the EU and any threat to our food production base must be resisted.”

Earlier this week, EU farmers’ group COPA-COGECA warned the trade deal would see the Mercosur countries export more than 1m tonnes of high-quality beef cuts, worth about €16bn (£13.7bn).

Further costs of €9bn (£7.7m) would be incurred due to the indirect effects on the price of beef in Europe.