EU farmers boss: ‘Devastating’ Mercosur trade pact exposes Europe’s double standards

Pekka Pesonen, Secretary-General of the EU farmers and cooperatives’ association (Copa-Cogeca). [Photo by Sarantis Michalopoulos]

This article is part of our special report The future of EU agriculture innovation.

The trade deal recently reached between the EU and Mercosur countries is devastating for European farmers and exposes the bloc’s double standards, Pekka Pesonen, Secretary-General of the EU farmers and cooperatives’ association (Copa-Cogeca), told EURACTIV.com in an interview.

“First of all, this is a political agreement. It still needs some fine-tuning but it’s fair to say that the impact of the Mercosur agreement would be devastating on the European farming family model,” Pesonen said.

The EU and Mercosur countries – Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay – reached a political agreement on 28 June over a comprehensive new trade deal.

The deal came after two decades of often tough negotiations, which had repeatedly stalled because of European farmer sensitivities.

EU, Mercorsur reach trade deal after 20 years of talks

The European Union and South American trade bloc Mercosur sealed a blockbuster trade deal Friday, ending 20 years of talks over one of the world’s largest regional commercial accords, negotiators said.

The EU-Mercosur agreement was announced as the US administration of President Donald Trump faced several bilateral disputes, including trade tensions with China and disagreements with EU countries.

According to Pesonen, the EU-Mercosur deal was Europe’s way of telling Trump that “we are going our way” with other trading partners.

“As it happens, agriculture pays for it. So once again, agriculture pays for the international bad relations.”

The agricultural boss said Mercosur countries have been offered market access to a large number of sectors, without Europe getting substantial reciprocity in return.

“The net balance of this agreement is hugely negative. It’s several billion euros in the negative, in the red. We also have to take into account that we the next MFF is also negative in terms of further cuts for agriculture,” Pesonen said.

The sectors due to be affected are beef, poultry, pig meat, sugar, bioethanol, oranges and rice.

Double standards

However, for Pesonen, the Mercosur trade deal also exposes Europe’s “double standards” when it comes to new technologies and innovation.

Particularly, Pesonen raised the issue of production standards in these countries as well as the different production options the Mercosur farmers can have compared to EU producers.

“Their toolbox is much wider than ours, much wider what European society has allowed the EU farmers,” he said.

Pesonen referred to plant breeding techniques and GMOs as some methods that can be used in those countries but are not allowed in Europe.

“Of course, we assume that the customs officers and the national authorities will do their best for food safety so that the food is safe to eat. But what does it mean for EU farmers that their competitors can use technology and structures that we can only dream of?” Pesonen added.

The EU farmers’ boss said EU policymakers keep on putting pressure on EU producers to be more sustainable and reduce chemicals but at the same time, they seal deals with countries, such as Mercosur, where big industrial agriculture driven by multinationals has prevailed.

“It’s absolute rubbish when they accuse EU farmers of applying industrial farming. We still have a predominantly farming family model across the EU. We have very few big enterprises, big farms,” he said.

Referring to environmental issues, he said the introduction of new technologies is a necessity to tackle climate change and called for an honest discussion in Europe about them.

“We cannot solve the problem without technologies. That’s a must. It’s not what we want, or we don’t want, it’s a must because everybody out there is going to do that,” he said.

“We should open this discussion and make clear how we position ourselves in the EU […] whether we should actually embrace some of those technologies that would enable us to make a better contribution,” he added.

*Hannah Archambault contributed to this article

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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