The European Union and Mercosur begin Monday a new round of negotiations in Brussels to reach an association and trade agreement although proposals for market access will not be on the table yet.
The regulatory framework for the future trade agreement, including issues such as technical barriers to trade, competition and the origin of products are some of the issues to be addressed this week in the Belgian capital.
“During this week’s five-day round we will not be discussing any market access proposal for the moment” said EU sources.
“This means that concessions for such specific items as beef will not be addressed…” underlined members from the EU delegation
Mercosur is hopeful that the current round of negotiations re-launched after several years of stagnation, in May 2010 will make it easier for block members, --world leading meat experts--, to introduce beef and other farm produce to the EU.
However EU farmers’ organizations and cooperatives under the umbrella group Copa-Cogeca recently published a report with information from several European countries arguing that making it easier for Mercosur ‘cheap’ agriculture imports will lead to a ‘collapse’ of the beef industry, price volatility and losses estimated in 25 billion Euros.
The Euro-chamber in Strasbourg last week joined the controversy by approving a report which warns negotiations with Mercosur and agriculture concessions must not be done at the behest of European farmers.
In its statement (a non-legislative resolution) the European Parliament “strongly criticizes the European Commission for resuming negotiations with Mercosur without discussing the matter with the Council. It also expresses serious concern about the impact on the EU farm sector of a trade agreement with Mercosur and calls on the Commission to protect farmers' interests and put forward an impact assessment on the effect of such an agreement, to be debated, before the talks are finalized”.
The EC should always ensure ‘symmetrical tariff concessions’ when discussing free trade agreements, “especially with countries with strong agricultural sectors, such as Mercosur”, underlines the resolution.
However the European Commission said that “it is exaggerated to say that a free trade agreement with Mercosur would destroy the European beef industry”.
Trade spokesperson John Clancy also rejected the idea of banning the import of those products that do not abide by EU rulings.
Although admitting that some of the environmental and animal well being standards in the EU are higher than those of Mercosur, Clancy said that “instead of banning entirely imports from regions with different regulations, we should increase the information about those differences to the consumers”.
“The Common Agriculture Policy is there precisely to support European farmers and cover their higher costs, and because they also have the strictest of regulations in many fields”, added Clancy.
Mercosur countries complain about European agriculture subsidies but the European Commission has argued that they have been significantly limited and are currently “a minimum percentage” of those allowed by the WTO.
The European Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht during a recent visit to Paraguay, which currently holds the Mercosur chair, admitted that trade negotiations ‘could be delayed’ given the strong controversy particularly in agriculture.
Nevertheless he remains moderately hopeful that negotiations “could conclude in the second half of the year”.
Following Brussels the next round of negotiations is scheduled to take place in Asunción, Paraguay during the first week of May.