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EU’s trade policy clashes with sustainability and food sovereignty ambitions, says farming group

Euractiv | 5 July 2024

EU’s trade policy clashes with sustainability and food sovereignty ambitions, says farming group

By Sofia Sanchez Manzanaro

The EU should control agricultural prices and abandon its policy of free trade agreements (FTA), including the long-stalled trade deal with Mercosur, a representative of the farmers’ organisation European Coordination Via Campesina (ECVC), told Euractiv in an interview.

The Via Campesina movement, founded in 1993 to organise family and small-scale farmers around the world to resist globalisation, invented the term ‘food sovereignty’.

“The ECVC proposes to paralyse negotiations with Mercosur and freeze existing free trade agreements,” Andoni Garcia Arriola, a Spanish farmer and a member of the organisation’s coordinating committee, told Euractiv.

The deal with the Latin American bloc—formed by Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay—has been put on the back burner amid farmers’ protests, the campaign for the European Parliament elections, and fresh concerns from EU countries about the FTA’s impact on the agricultural sector.

Nevertheless, the EU could be preparing to sign off on the deal in the coming months, the bloc’s lead negotiator Rupert Schlegelmilch told Brazilian media in May.

Once signed, the agreement would require backing from the European Parliament and a qualified majority of member states in the Council, representing at least 65% of the EU population.

This possibility seems increasingly unlikely as the French far-right, reinforced after the country’s legislative election in July, is set to oppose it.

Garcia stressed that free trade policies contribute to the “replacement” of local agricultural products for imported ones.

“This depresses domestic prices,” he said, adding that the EU favours “an export-oriented production model for agriculture.”

The farmer, who is based in the Basque country, stressed that pursuing free trade policies clashes with the objectives of the Green Deal and the Farm to Fork Strategy, which aims to make the EU’s food systems more sustainable.

“There should be greater control over imports and also on prices, with minimum entry prices,” said the ECVC member. “We don’t call for this as a protectionist measure, but to recover our food sovereignty.”

A big deal?

The agricultural sector has been vocal in their opposition to new trade agreements during the recent farmer protests that swept across Europe in the first months of 2024.

Farmers fear the Mercosur deal would result in markets being flooded with cheaper products from agricultural powerhouses such as Argentina and Brazil, if imports are liberalised under the agreement.

However, according to European Commission data, the EU-Mercosur agreement would only allow 99,000 tonnes of beef to enter the EU with a preferential 7.5% duty, which accounts for only 1.2% of the EU’s annual beef consumption.

For poultry, the deal will scrap duties on 180,000 tonnes of meat entering the EU, which accounts for approximately 1.2% of the bloc’s consumption.

Despite the small import figures, Garcia still insists on regaining control of the EU’s food production, which should involve stricter market regulations, and increasing the number of agricultural workers.

“We also need to respect the food sovereignty of third countries,” said Garcia.

“We expect the [EU] agri-food policy and trade policy to involve much more the single market and local food production in a model of sustainable agriculture,” he added.

Only the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) has explicitly called for concluding the Mercosur trade agreement in the draft priorities for the next five years that EU political groups of the parliament are discussing this week.

 source: Euractiv