French President Emmanuel Macron has succeeded in pushing trade onto the agenda of the EU summit which starts on Thursday (19 October), calling for caution in commercial deals that would bring a surge of beef and other agricultural imports.
France has led a group of 11 countries calling on the European Commission, which negotiates trade agreements on behalf of EU nations, not to rush into a deal with the Mercosur bloc of Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay.
Macron said last week that France was in no hurry to a deal with Mercosur by the end of the year, a goal the Commission has set, noting that the mandate dates back to 1999.
— Anne-S Chassany (@ChassNews) October 17, 2017
France’s ambassador to Brazil said on Monday that France would propose changing that mandate to include food safety provision. However, officials said on Wednesday that the mandate was not up for discussion – at least for now.
Trade will however, be squeezed between the leaders’ dinner discussions on foreign policy and Brexit, in an agenda described by one EU diplomat as “very full”.
President Macron is under pressure from French farmers to avoid competition from cheaper Mercosur products, especially meat and ethanol.
— Esteban Moscariello (@moscarielloe) October 18, 2017
EU officials said Macron was concerned the Commission was “running too fast” towards a deal with Mercosur, as it plans to open up talks with Australia and New Zealand, two other countries that want to expand exports of farm products.
EU lawmakers last week backed the start of such free trade talks, while warning negotiators should be cautious about allowing in produce such as butter and beef.
Macron, EU officials said, believed in free trade but wanted to tread carefully. France needed to learn more on the Commission’s plan for Australia and New Zealand talks and on whether each set of talks should be split.
— Frans Köster (@franskoster070) October 17, 2017
An EU court ruling in May opened the door for trade deals to be split in two – one on major parts of market opening that could be fast-tracked and a second centred on investment that would need to wait for approval by national parliaments.
Some EU states are concerned that national parliaments remain involved in the process.
One EU diplomat forecast an “interesting” discussion going beyond just the Mercosur talks, with some countries clearly wanting to accelerate deals and others more concerned about the impact of globalisation and parts of society put at risk by increased trade.