Free trade deals ‘at all cost’ frustrate Spanish farmers

Spanish farmers are worried about the impact trade deals with Canada and Mercosur will have on certain sectors, particularly livestock. [Shutterstock]

Spain’s agricultural sector is concerned about free trade negotiations between the European Union and third parties. The agreement with Canada (CETA) and ongoing talks with South American trade bloc Mercosur are raising doubts in the Iberian countryside. EFEAgro reports.

Spanish farmers are both worried and doubtful about progress in free trade negotiations between Brussels and non-EU countries. Many want increased diplomatic efforts that will ensure agriculturalists are not disadvantaged by the opening up of borders.

The Spanish government’s ratification of the EU-Canada deal last week highlighted once again the complexities of free trade deals and the ongoing concerns of those in the agricultural sector about the finer details of these large agreements.

Sources from Spanish farming associations Asaja, COAG and UPA, as well as other cooperatives, told EFEAgro that the EU’s trade deals often yield “frustrating” results for the sector, which has found itself having to focus more and more on exterior markets.

CETA aside, talks are ongoing on a deal with Mercosur. European farmers have warned of the “danger” of opening up the domestic market to large scale agricultural producers in Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.

Agri-food Cooperatives International Director Gabriel Trenzado said that the EU and national governments have to put in a “greater diplomatic effort” to ensure farmers are not hamstrung by these large-scale deals.

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Deals “at all cost”

Trenzado’s organisation urged Brussels not to pursue an agreement with Mercosur “at all costs” because the trade bloc is made up of powerful agricultural exporters, particularly within the livestock and citrus sectors.

He added that there is a widespread lack of reciprocity between the EU and its partners, suggesting that Brussels initially brokers the deal as a single bloc before leaving it up to national governments to organise with its producers how to actually access the markets in question.

Trenzado cited CETA as an example, admitting that the deal is a “good agreement” but insisting that there are “technical layers” and that there have been problems recently exporting stone fruits and kiwi fruits to Canada.

Asaja’s fruit and vegetable coordinator, Benjamin Fauli, acknowledged that Canada has the potential to be a good export market for the horticultural sector, due to its limited domestic growing capacity, but warned that the impact on the beef sector could be negative.

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Pests

Fauli said that trade agreements are “often very frustrating” and mentioned that there are also phytosanitary concerns are also significant, given that “every year, three or four pests emerge” through imports.

He cited the EU’s trade pact with various countries in southern Africa and concessions granted to South Africa’s citrus fruit industry.

COAG’s Andoni García shared an even more negative view of CETA, which he claims prioritises the interests of large companies and “condemns the family farm model in favour of the industrial model”, based on “hormones and transgenics”.

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He warned that a Mercosur deal would slash prices and farmer income even more, thanks to imports from producers in Brazil.

UPA’s José Manuel Roche said that CETA “is not the agreement farmers want”  and complained that the agricultural sector is only used as a form of bargaining chip in trade negotiations.

Spanish farmers are also concerned about Brexit, given that the United Kingdom is the sector’s fourth most important destination for its agri-food products.

Roche warned that a hard Brexit could damage what are “very consolidated” relationships at the moment for products like Spanish wine. He added that a soft Brexit is now the way to go, in which the UK would have a status like Norway or Switzerland.