A trade agreement reached between the European Commission and the countries of the Mercosur area – Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay – represents a threat to European farmers and the EU’s agricultural model, according to an analysis by Boerenbond, the Belgian farmers’ union.
The agreement, the paper says, opens up the South American market for European goods and services, in return for greater access for their agricultural products. The Mercosur countries have slashed tariffs on cars and machinery, in return for exporting more beef, chicken and sugar to the EU – where they already hold a large market share.
“European beef prices have for some time been under pressure due to a fall in demand,” the paper argues. “The allowance of 99,000 tonnes of Mercosur beef can only increase the pressure. The European sugar sector is also suffering under the liberalisation of European sugar policy. Easier access of heavily subsidised sugar from Mercosur will increase unfair competition. But it is the poultry sector that had to suffer in the last days of negotiating an accord with an extra allowance of 180,000 tonnes of chicken.”
In general, Boerenbond says, the style of agriculture in Mercosur countries and the EU differs widely. “It is the large industrial companies from the Mercosur that will supply the exports coming to Europe, where they will compete with the more family-based European producers. The small local producer in the Mercosur will not get much from this agreement.”
In addition, the paper says diplomatically, the Mercosur’s standards in matters such as traceability, food safety, animal welfare and sanitary and phyto-sanitary rules are “of a different order”.
“It is unthinkable that trade policy should open the door to products and production models that are far away from European expectations for agriculture and food, even while in Europe a heated debate is under way on the further greening of European agriculture and greater efforts to meet a variety of social expectations.”
The organisation points out that the pact has now to be approved by the European Parliament as well as the Council of Ministers, and calls on both bodies to work with the European farming organisation COPA to maintain a balance between the interests of farmers and those of exporting manufacturers. “Without the necessary guarantees, balances and compensation, the European familial agricultural model risks going under.”