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EU seeks post-election approval of Mercosur trade deal, says Brussels’ chief negotiator

Euractiv | 8 May 2024

EU seeks post-election approval of Mercosur trade deal, says Brussels’ chief negotiator

By Sofia Sanchez Manzanaro

The EU is preparing for swift approval of a long-stalled trade agreement with the Mercosur bloc – Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay – post-June’s European Parliament elections, according to Rupert Schlegelmilch, Brussels’ top negotiator.

Schlegelmilch toured the four Mercosur countries last week to iron out the technical details of the agreement, which, if signed, would be the EU’s largest to date, covering 10% of the world’s population and 20% of global GDP.

In an interview with the Brazilian newspaper Folha de S. Paulo on 2 May, Schlegelmilch confirmed that he was doing pending “homework” with the Latin American countries in order to seal the agreement should a window of opportunity arise after June.

“The agreement is very much alive. The fact is that the Commission is still negotiating,” Schlegelmilch told Folha de S. Paulo. “We have a mandate from all the member states, including France, to do this,” he stressed.

After two decades of negotiations, the EU and Mercosur reached a political agreement on the final shape of the text in 2019.

Still, its ratification has been stalled due to environmental concerns and fears regarding its impact on the EU’s agricultural sector, particularly raised by France and other EU countries.

“I’ll be very honest: right now, with the elections and farmers on the streets in many places across Europe, it’s just not a good time. So we need to wait for the elections to end,” Schlegelmilch said.

Paris has recently intensified its criticism of the trade deal to appease protesting French farmers, and even pressed the European Commission in January to halt negotiations completely.

During a recent visit to Brazil, French President Emmanuel Macron called the text “outdated” because it was conceived 20 years ago, and asked for negotiations on a new deal from scratch.

Responding to those comments, Schlegelmilch told EuroEFE, Euractiv’s media partner, that the deal is constantly being updated to comply with the latest standards.

“For the last three years, we have made sure that the agreement is up to date with everything that a modern trade agreement entails, so I don’t understand why President Macron said that,” he stated.

In Brussels, the Commission has been less vocal about finalising the deal this year as the topic has become increasingly polarising within the EU’s agricultural sector.

A Commission spokesperson told Euractiv on 8 May that the EU and Mercosur continue to be in touch “at a technical level”.

“The EU focus remains on ensuring that the agreement delivers on the EU’s sustainability goals while respecting the EU’s sensitivities in the agricultural sector,” the spokesperson added.

A delicate balance

Despite the Commission’s intention to move swiftly and rubberstamp the deal after the elections, support from member states in the Council will be crucial.

Pascal Lamy, a former chief of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and European Commissioner for Trade, told Euractiv that the trade elements of the deal, which fall under the exclusive competence of the EU, could be provisionally applied, similar to the EU-Canada agreement (CETA).

However, this also requires endorsement from European Parliament and from a qualified majority of member states in the Council, representing at least 65% of the EU population.

For Lamy, getting ministers on board will depend on the deal’s final environmental content, such as commitments to implement the Paris Climate Agreement or additional guarantees on deforestation.

He suggested that these strengthened environmental assurances could be leveraged against farming interests in the Council.

“If I take a country like France, for instance, they are under severe pressure from the farming constituency not to accept [the deal],” said Lamy.

“It might be indispensable for the Commission, and for the French […] or whoever would be in a blocking minority to say ‘look, changes on the farming side are minimal and in the meantime, we got more guarantees on the green side’,” he added.

Lamy also pointed out France’s influence in the Council, noting that Paris rarely takes part in losing minorities.

“The question is whether the Commission and a few other countries are ready to put France into a minority.”

 source: Euractiv