The protests in the European countryside in recent days left a consequence that directly affects Argentina. The French government demanded that the European Commission announce the definitive suspension of trade negotiations with Mercosur. The European countryside fears that this agreement, which has been negotiated for two decades, will serve to open the entire door of the European market to agricultural products from the South American bloc, which are more competitive in price and in some areas also in quality.
The French demand did not have sufficient support at the European summit this Thursday in Brussels so that the 27 agreed to put it in writing in the meeting's conclusions document, which has no mention of trade issues.
The European Commission had repeated during the week that it understood that it was not the best time to close an agreement (with the rural protests and a few months before the European elections) but France wanted a formal suspension announcement that did not come. Others, like Spanish President Pedro Sánchez, spoke after the summit in favor of continuing to negotiate and to agree if the conditions were met.
The French had reached the summit without giving up their positions. The French government spokesperson, Prisca Thevenot, had said that the agreement with Mercosur “does not guarantee” a defense of the “French agricultural exception” and repeated that South American producers work with environmental or phytosanitary standards that are more lax than those in Europe, which which places European producers at a competitive disadvantage.
It is the new argument in Paris after the return to power in Brazil of Lula da Silva and the departure of the far-right Jair Bolsonaro left them without the excuse of recent years.
In Milan, Italy, there are also protests by rural producers against the official agricultural policy. Photo: EFE
After the European summit, President Emmanuel Macron returned to the French refusal using the same argument: “What is incomprehensible, and which I myself do not know how to explain, is that we impose rules for what we produce in Europe and allow products to be imported that do not respect those same rules and that come from outside Europe.”
The Frenchman added: “For that same reason, today, with the current state of the Mercosur text, France opposes, and will continue to oppose, this free trade agreement with the Mercosur region.”
France, in fact, has always opposed. The only thing that has changed in these two decades, regardless of political changes in Paris, is the excuse for not allowing the European Commission to definitively sign the agreement. The French are the ones making the most noise, but behind them countries like Belgium, Austria, Poland, Luxembourg, Ireland and the Netherlands hide their rejection of the agreement. Enough to form a blocking minority in the Council of the European Union that would make ratification of the agreement impossible, even if the negotiators reached an agreement one day.
The agreement with Mercosur, which was about to be signed in 2007, in 2013, in 2019 and last December, it is one of the great ogres of European farmers and ranchers along with the ecological transition. It would be the largest trade agreement for the two blocks and would unite two markets that total 780 million people and trade exchanges that are around 50 billion dollars a year.
It would progressively nullify tariffs and foresees a significant import quota into Europe for Mercosur beef. It also recognizes more than 400 designations of origin from the two blocks.
The rejection of the field
The European countryside does not like that the agreement provides for the entry into Europe without tariffs of, for example, 180,000 tons of sugar or 60,000 tons of rice per year, but above all it rejects the entry of 99,000 tons of beef with a tariff of 7, 5%, another 60,000 tons of lower quality beef without tariff and 180,000 tons of poultry meat, also without tariff.
The Europeans allege that this production in Mercosur is subject to fewer environmental and phytosanitary standards that allow it to be more competitive in prices and that these Mercosur products would expel local products from the European marketmore expensive.
The anger could crystallize on Thursday when the Frenchman Macron met with the president of the European Commission, the German Úrsula Von der Leyen, who is in favor of the agreement. French diplomacy did not obtain the official suspension it sought and the negotiations will continue as planned, but no one now expects progress until the European elections on June 9 are over.
Berlin, Madrid and Rome support the agreement. Spain tried by all means to have it signed during its six-month presidency of the Council of the European Union, which ended on December 31. He didn't get it. Berlin continues to push. In early January, when German Prime Minister Olaf Scholz spoke to President Javier Milei for the first time, he told him that negotiations “must be concluded quickly.”