In a move to address the ongoing protests by French farmers, Prime Minister Gabriel Attal unequivocally declared France's rejection of the EU-Mercosur free trade agreement. The decision, previously hinted at by President Emmanuel Macron, aims to alleviate the grievances of farmers who have been blocking roads and highways across the country. France's two largest farmers' unions said in a statement that they will lay siege to Paris from Monday.
Attal, speaking at a livestock farm in Haute-Garonne, stated, As already announced by the President of the Republic, France opposes the signing of the Mercosur treaty. I say it loud and clear. This development marks a significant setback to the agreement, which had been under negotiation for decades and gained momentum in 2019 with a political understanding between the European Union and Mercosur countries, including Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Bolivia.
The rejection is grounded in concerns over the lack of reciprocity in environmental standards between Europe, known for its stringent regulations, and South America. President Macron had initially revealed the decision at the COP28 Summit in December, emphasizing the need for environmental harmony in any trade pact.
France's decisive stance comes just days after Mercosur foreign ministers expressed their commitment to advancing negotiations with the EU, aiming for a balanced agreement. However, the French rejection poses a significant obstacle, as all 27 EU member states must ratify the deal for it to proceed. The fate of the EU-Mercosur trade agreement remains uncertain as countries navigate environmental considerations and address concerns raised by key stakeholders.
The head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell, acknowledged that the current crisis in European agriculture could represent an obstacle for this treaty, which needs the approval of the 27 EU members to be signed by the European Commission.
The message however did not convince the main union of the sector, which called to continue the mobilization. What was said tonight does not calm our anger. We have to go further, declared the union's president, Arnaud Rousseau, considering that the measures announced were too limited and did not respond to all the producers' demands.
The EU and Mercosur had reached an agreement in principle in mid-2019, but the texts, not final, were neither signed nor ratified by the respective parliaments. Although the European Commission is negotiating a trade and political agreement with the bloc formed by Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Uruguay and Paraguay, it needs to be signed by all 27 member states.
Therefore, the strong French refusal would leave any other type of negotiation between representatives of the States truncated.
French farmers are pressing the government to respond to their demands for better remuneration for their products, less red tape and protection against cheap imports.
Speaking after an emergency meeting, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said 15,000 police officers would be deployed, mostly in the Paris region.
France's two largest farmers' unions said in a statement that their members based in areas around the Paris region would try to block major highways leading into the capital, aiming to put the city under siege starting Monday afternoon. They also threw smelly agricultural waste at the gates of several government offices.