Member states split as Mercosur trade deal progresses

editorial image

As technical discussions on a trade deal with the Mercosur bloc continue, member states have been more vocal on how they think the deal should be approached.

Last week Ireland, France, Poland and Belgium sent a letter to European Commission president Jean-Claude Junker, stating that there should be no further offer of quotas for sensitive agricultural products such as beef and ethanol.

The letter suggests that it would be better to reduce tariffs on a limited quota phased over a long period of time, rather than increase quotas with higher tariffs.

The four government leaders also insist that compliance with sanitary, phytosanitary and environmental standards must be guaranteed. Two days after this letter was sent, a group of seven member states including Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands, wrote their own letter to commission president Junker. Their letter urges the commission to “submit to Mercosur a reasonable and balanced offer that will pave the way for the conclusion of an agreement.” They highlight sectors of the European economy which are of strategic importance and say that both sides must be willing to make concessions.

Meanwhile, the European farmers’ organisation Copa, has spoken out strongly against a deal in their own letter to commission president Junker, commissioners Malmström and Hogan. Copa says that at this time of extreme uncertainty the European agriculture sector could face losses in excess of €7 billion according to the commission’s latest Joint Research Centre study.

Member states sign off Irish beef fund

Last week EU member states agreed to a proposal from the European Commission to make €50 million available to Irish beef farmers, in “recognition of the particular challenges facing the Irish beef and veal sector due to market uncertainty and an unprecedented and sustained period of low prices.”

The money can be matched by national funds to reach a maximum of €100 million and Irish authorities will have until the end of July to decide the criteria on how to grant the aid. The implementing regulation calls for measures that reduce production and encourage restructuring through objectives including developing new markets, implementing schemes that promote quality and value added, and protecting and improving farmers’ environmental, climate and economic sustainability.

No member state voted against the fund but Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic and Slovenia abstained. Last week commissioner Hogan was asked about measures that might be put in place for other member states who have suffered significant losses due to Brexit and other market issues.

He said: “Substantial loss of income for farmers in Ireland was not replicated in other member states. The beef fund was put forward for Ireland as a response to a very difficult market situation - some of it was market related while a larger proportion was Brexit related.”

EU leaders fail to reach agreement on presidential role

The European Summit took place last week and leaders of the EU member states failed to reach an agreement on who should be the next president of the European Commission. The usual “Spitzenkandidaten” process, in which the groups of the parliament each put forward a candidate and the candidate with the most support wins, has not taken effect. With no majority on any candidate, leaders will meet again on 30 June ahead of the inaugural parliament plenary session in Strasbourg on 2-4 July, when newly elected MEPs will officially begin their mandates.

Although the conclusions of the European Council in April said that Brexit progress would be reviewed in June, it was only included on the agenda as an information point. Council president Donald Tusk, reiterated that the EU would be open to talks on the declaration on future UK-EU relations but the Withdrawal Agreement is not open for renegotiation.

Irish premier Leo Varadkar, also commented that EU leaders do not want to grant another extension to the Article 50 process.

Climate change was also on the agenda but following a blocking move from Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary and Estonia, the commitment for the EU to become climate-neutral by 2050 was relegated to the footnotes of the council conclusions