EU-Mercosur, an agreement  with different agricultural standards

There is "an imbalance in the agricultural chapter of the agreement," said Copa-Cogeca's director of basis products, trade issues and technology, Daniel Azevedo. The problem is that "the technical negotiations that are underway, do not have the political mandate to change the agreed text", such as the "sustainability provisions or tariff quotas," for example. EPA-EFE/JOEDSON ALVES

This article is part of our special report EU agriculture and Mercosur: what is the state of play?.

The difference in production standards has been one of many causes for disagreement during the negotiations of the EU-Mercosur agreement. EURACTIV’s partner Efeagro reports.

Food safety, phytosanitary products, quality seals, animal welfare and sustainable trade with the adequate environmental standards have been the focus of discussions and may even delay its implementation.

On 28 June 2019 – the day the political agreement’s trade chapter was signed – the then European Commissioner for Agriculture Phil Hogan said the EU had to make “significant concessions to ensure a balanced, comprehensive and ambitious result”.

However, Europe’s producers had criticised the treaty even before that date.

There is “an imbalance in the agricultural chapter of the agreement,” said EU farmers association COPA-COGECA’s director of basis products, trade issues and technology, Daniel Azevedo.

The problem is that “the technical negotiations that are underway, do not have the political mandate to change the agreed text”, such as the “sustainability provisions or tariff quotas,” for example.

“The difference between production standards widens the gap between EU and Mercosur farmers, and creates unfair competition”, said Azevedo, noting that “safeguard measures are insufficient to prevent disrupting the market or climate change.”

According to COPA-COGECA, poultry, honey, rice from all EU countries would be the most impacted by the agreement. More specifically, Irish and French beef, as well as French, German, Dutch, Belgian and Polish sugar, and Mediterranean citrus – especially from Spain – would also be heavily affected.

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One fifth of beef and soybean exports from Brazil to the European Union is produced on land that was illegally deforested, according to a report published in Science magazine on Thursday (16 July).

Phytosanitary measures 

According to the deal, a subcommittee will meet at least once a year and, if necessary, in extraordinary session at the request of one of the parties to discuss problems that may arise from the application of phytosanitary measures (SPS), which are “non-negotiable”.

Each party will also make its list of pests, regulated products and phytosanitary import requirements available.

Although the general director of the Business Association for the Protection of Plants (Aepla), Carlos Palomar, applauded the establishment of “strict rules”, he told Efeagro that “there is great concern about the possible entry of new pests into the EU from third countries”, which could “require strict border controls”.

“The difference in pest and disease control tools between the two areas” is also worrying, he added, as it “may lead to trade barriers if the levels of traces of phytosanitary products, known as import tolerances, are not negotiated”.

For instance, Valencian farmers’ associations have already asked Brussels to carry out a phytosanitary audit of the entire Argentine citrus sector, after a growing number of lemons infested with pests were intercepted at European ports.

Spanish producers also point out that Mercosur citrus growers currently use plant medicines that may contain active substances prohibited for European production, without these being an obstacle for their entry on the EU market.

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Animal welfare and the environment

The EU’s animal welfare standards are also stricter than those applicable in Mercosur states.

Although the deal “will promote the EU’s global animal welfare agenda” and “the standards of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE)”, the national manager of the Spanish Association of Beef Producers (Asoprovac), Matilde Moro, told Efeagro that while the EU has developed animal welfare legislation including on “accommodation and handling, during transportation and slaughtering,” Brazil, for instance, although a great beneficiary of the beef agreement, “has not adopted legislation on these fundamental points “.

For instance, the recommended – not mandatory – recommended space for the transportation of animals in Brazil is between 5 and 15% lower than the one required in the EU, she added. According to Brazil’s regulations, unloading animals during long trips is not required, and transporters are unaware that regulations on the movement of livestock even exist.

Animal welfare associations like the Spanish ANDA have warned that the proposed agreement “does not guarantee that imports follow the same requirements in terms of animal welfare that are applicable to European production”.

“It would discourage European farmers from continuing on the path taken towards respect for the environment and animal welfare,” the organisation added.

Besides, between 18 and 22% of Brazil’s annual exports of soybeans and beef to the EU is related to illegal logging, according to a July report published by the journal Science.

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Geographical indications and quality seals

The EU-Mercosur deal will protect 355 names of food products, wines and spirits that have  European quality seals like Jabugo or Queso Manchego.

The agreement also forbids expressions such as “gender”, “type”, “style”, “imitation” claims and images that suggest a false geographical origin.

The agreement “will positively influence” the development of the sector. There is ‘a solid legislative basis to elucidate possible conflicts’,” according to Spain’s association of geographical seals Origen España.

The association hopes the agreement will be strengthened over time with the recognition of all protected designations of origin (PDO) and protected geographical indications (PGI) registered in the EU, according to sources consulted by Efeagro.

They also expect them to harden “punitive elements in cases of infringement” and “the willingness of the signatories to apply agreements, regardless of the strength of the offenders.”

[Edited by Daniel Eck, Natasha Foote, Gerardo Fortuna, Zoran Radosavljevic]

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