Prospect of higher Mercosur meat quotas angers French farmers

Liniers Ranch Market's cattle, a 104-year-old ranch located in the Argentinian neighbourhood of New Chicago, in Buenos Aires. This is Argentina's largest cattle market and one of the biggest in the world to sell and buy the famous Argentinian beef. [Cezaro de Luca/EPA]

Meat imports were a significant obstacle in brokering the EU’s trade deal with Canada. Now, the same issue has cropped up in the ongoing Mercosur talks, infuriating French livestock farmers and politicians, EURACTIV France reports

Meat was back on the menu during bilateral talks this week in Brussels, with Mercosur trade ministers (Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Argentina) and Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrӧm dining out.

According to Reuters, the quantity of meat that Mercosur would have the right to export into the EU has been increased to 99,000 tonnes per year.

In France, Agriculture Minister Stéphane Travert condemns this proposal, recalling that French President Emmanuel Macron had already warned Jean-Claude Juncker that the quota of 70,000 tonnes was already a red line for France.

“France wishes to continue talks with Mercosur, but within the actual political context, it is crucial to come to a balanced result, and at this moment we are far from it,” said the minister.

“On the subject of beef, the quota should not exceed the volume already supplied at a European level,” which is equivalent to 70,000 tonnes, the minister added.

The timing is unfortunate for Travert, who shortly has to release the result of the National Food Conference (Etats Généraux de l’Alimentation), a long dialogue which resulted in a legal text meant to solve the recreation of value and its fair distribution.

It’s an initiative that could run the risk of being pointless if at the same time the EU opens its borders to cheap agricultural products.

“We cannot advocate food sovereignty and accept to open the market to meat produced in completely contradictory situations,” said Dominique Langlois, president of Interbev, the French national inter-branch livestock and meat association.

Farmers renew calls for protection in Mercosur negotiations

European farmers have written to the European Commission to “reject any concessions” on the agricultural chapters of the EU’s free trade negotiations with South American trading bloc Mercosur, which they say would expose farmers to unfair competition.

The livestock industry opposes importing more meat. Brexit could also have a detrimental effect on European livestock farmers, as the UK is a major meat importer from the EU-27.

“More than 75% of our meat imports, the equivalent of 246.000 tonnes, already comes from these countries, and it is unacceptable that the EU puts forward a proposal to increase the quota in exchange for concessions in other sectors,” says Jean-Pierre Fleury, of the Copa Cogeca, the European agricultural lobby.

The president of the National Bovine Federation (FNB), Bruno Dufayet, also believes that European consumers would be “cheated” and “sacrificed” if Europe were to receive 99,000 tonnes of meat without customs duty from these countries.

“Antibiotics, growth stimulants, meat and bone meal, GMO’s, everything that is banned here is allowed in those countries,” Dufayet said during an RMC radio broadcast on Wednesday morning.

Meat for milk and spare parts

In exchange for more meat in Europe, Mercosur should in return accept more milk and automotive parts, according to sources from the Commission.

Last week, during the visit of Argentinian President, Mauricio Macri, to Paris, the French president “clearly expressed France’s concerns (…) particularly on the subject of meat, as there are national interests to protect on the subject”.

French EPP MEPs also strongly oppose the potential increase meat imports to Europe. “Although we had already condemned the last quota of 70,000 tonnes, last September, once more the Commission turned the other way and is now about to put forward a new offer of 99,000 tonnes of beef to Mercosur,” said centre-right deputies Tokia Saïfi and Franck Proust in a communiqué.

CETA’s shadow

The question of meat quotas irritated livestock farmers during the CETA trade agreement, which was provisionally implemented in September. The agreement concluded between the EU and Canada plans imports of 65,000 tonnes of beef.

This represents only 0.8% of European consumption, but the impact on the sectors could be greater in terms of value. “Canadians will export prime-quality cuts, so the impact will automatically be greater than the one mentioned amongst the meat sector,” warns Dominique Langlois.

The implementation of CETA has already confirmed that the opening of the European market leads towards more competition. It also decreases the EU’s capacity to negotiate differently with the other trade partners such as Mercosur, or Japan.

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