Plans to ease trade rules between Europe and South America could have a catastrophic impact on EU agriculture, MEPs debating the deal have been warned.
European farmers union Copa-Cogeca said the trade liberalising talks between the EU and the Mercosur group of Latin American countries could cost farmers billions of euros.
At a seminar at the European Parliament on Monday (2 May), the union said the potential deal could also cause job losses in rural areas.
Gerd Sonnleitner, Copa president, told the meeting of farmers, processors and agricultural groups that a union report had caluculated losses of up to €13bn to the agricultural sector if the deal went ahead.
“And this does not even look at the impact on employment in EU rural areas where job losses are likely to be huge given that the EU agriculture sector provides for 28m jobs in EU rural areas.
“The same study shows that Mercosur is already a major exporter of agriculture and food products to the EU, with 86% of our beef imports and 70% of our poultrymeat imports coming from these countries.
“They also provide over 50% of our vegetable protein needs.
“Moreover, they currently export over and above their existing tariff rate quotas, showing that they do not need additional quotas tariff free to increase their trade to EU.”
If a deal went ahead, the EU would become dependent on one external source for its food security needs, making it dependent on climatic or political decisions from the Mercosaur of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay countries, he added.
“A bilateral trade deal would also not be complementary to an agreement in the Doha round of world trade talks, which would already be costly to the EU agriculture sector. It would come on top of it.”
Mr Sonnleitner’s warning came after the European Commission acknowledged that the trade deal could slash 3% from the income of every farmer in the EU.
Beef farmers would be most severely hit, with beef process predicted to slump by up to 8% if the deal went ahead.
The NFU said it had urged trade negotiations not to give any new concessions to the Mercosur bloc, warning it had the ability to seriously affect EU beef production.
“With the UK, a significant producer of beef in an EU context, the very real concern is that any deal with Mercosur threatens UK beef producers disproportionately and jeopardises our domestic beef industry,” said Kevin Roberts, NFU director general.
“The risk remains that we will export our industry abroad to countries that do not meet our high standards of production in terms of food safety, animal welfare and environmental protection.”
A number of EU farm ministers have already expressed strong misgivings towards the ongoing talks, with France, Italy, Austria, Greece, Romania, Poland, Belgium, Slovenia and Portugal demanding a “careful approach”.
European farm commissioner Dacian Ciolos said the next round of imminent trade talks with Mercosur in Paraguay would be an opportunity to test “reciprocal ambitions”.