France’s main farmers’ organization, FNSEA, called Wednesday on President Nicolas Sarkozy to pressure upon the European Community to impede the re-launching of negotiations for a free trade agreement with Mercosur
“The cost for European agriculture would be too high,” said an official communiqué from the National Federation of Agricultural Workers' Unions (FNSEA) addressed to President Nicolas Sarkozy requesting the French Government to press the European Commission to “stop” President José Manuel Barroso’s initiative that also has the support from the Spanish presidency of European Union.
FNSEA warned that it would never accept agriculture to become the “bargain chip” of trade or political negotiations adding that a free trade agreement with Mercosur “would cause numerous problems” to the European agriculture, particularly beef and poultry farmers. The union estimate losses to European beef farmers in the range of 3 to 5 billion Euros.
“Relations are already unbalanced” because of “competition distortions” caused by the different social, sanitary and veterinary regulations not only between the EU and Mercosur but also among Mercosur country members, said the communiqué. “It’s a question of not adding further misbalances” to the “flagrant” that already exist said the powerful farmers’ organization. FNSEA reacted immediately to the European executive announcement of talks’ resumption with Mercosur, stalled since 2004.
At the end of April, thousands of French grain farmers protested in Paris demanding the EU takes action to boost cereal prices. Up to 10.000 farmers descended on Paris in 1.300 tractors with the protest timed for the eve of the EU farm commissioner Dacian Ciolo’s visit to the French capital.
Barroso defended the initiative saying that “a successful result could offer benefits in creation of jobs and growth for both sides”. He argued that gains to the EU economy from increased access to Mercosur markets for things like telecommunications, financial services and cars would outweigh losses felt by the EU agriculture sector.
It is understood that EU agriculture commissioner Dacian Ciolos was against the plan to reopen the talks that previously collapsed in 2004. Spain, which currently holds the six month rotating EU presidency chair, expects that in the coming Latin America, the Caribbean and the European Union Summit (LAC-EU) next May 17/18 in Madrid, it can bolster a commitment from both sides to conclude the bilateral talks in a near future.
However, an internal note circulated by the EC notes that France, the UK, Romania, Hungary and Poland would be especially badly hit, with the poultry sector accounting for 9-12% of total agricultural output in these countries. In some regions, the concentration of poultry production is more than 70% of agricultural output. The note also points to serious losses for beef producers in Belgium, France, the UK, Spain and Ireland.
Another EU farmers' group, COPA, remains deeply sceptical. A bilateral trade agreement with Mercosur would cause a huge rise in beef, pork, poultry, wheat, citrus fruit and juice imports to the EU, said COPA president Padraig Walshe. ”This would lead to a substantial contraction in the EU agriculture sector, threatening 28 million jobs.