France “will not sign at this stage” the trade liberalisation agreement between the EU and Mercosur, the French foreign trade minister said on Thursday (4 February), adding he “expects guarantees” from the South American bloc on “environment and health standards.
“It does not mean our withdrawal, but we will only be satisfied with a political declaration on environmental commitments from the four countries involved [Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay], and that will take a long time,” trade minister Franck Riester said after a meeting of the Trade Policy Monitoring Committee, which brings together parliamentarians, officials, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), trade unions and employers.
Portugal’s prime minister, António Costa, had previously indicated that he had agreed with Argentine President Alberto Fernández on a “coordination of efforts” to advance the agreement between the European Union and Mercosur during the six months that Portugal holds the rotating EU presidency.
“I spoke with Alberto Fernández today about the coordination of efforts between the Portuguese presidency of the Council of the EU and the ‘pro tempore’ Mercosur presidency to move the EU-MERCOSUR Agreement forward,” Costa wrote on his official Twitter account after a videoconference with Fernández, whose country currently chairs the South American bloc.
“Portugal and Argentina are both committed to the Agreement, and we will work together during this six-month period,” he added, evoking the “historic closeness” between the two countries “at the moment when we take over the rotating presidencies of the EU and Mercosur.
The videoconference between the Portuguese prime minister and the Argentinean president comes days after contacts between the Portuguese and Argentine foreign ministries to settle outstanding aspects for the trade agreement to come into force.
Portugal and Argentina have agreed that they will concentrate their efforts on the issues that still prevent ratification of the agreement, which will need to go through the European Parliament and the Congresses of each Mercosur country (Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay). However, the treaty may come into force unilaterally between Europe and each Mercosur country that approves the text.
Outstanding issues include technical aspects such as lists of geographical indications, covering products with designation of origin, and issues of strong political relevance such as the environmental issue, which has been questioned by European countries such as France.
The EU-Mercosur agreement was closed in July 2019, after 20 years of negotiations.
[Edited by Benjamin Fox]