Mercosur Food Imports On Agenda In Strasbourg

08 July 2010
The European Parliament has today held a debate on the vexed question of food imports from the Latin American countries in the "Mercosur" group to the EU.
MEPs obliged the Commissioner for Trade, Karel de Gucht, to attend the Chamber by lodging a series of Parliamentary Questions on the revelation that the Commission had, with little fanfare, recommenced trade negotiations over a proposed EU-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement.

The Commissioner assured MEPs that "nothing is on the table, no agricultural offers have been made" and that "the Commission has no intention to negotiate any of our health and safety requirements" but MEPs agreed to keep the matter under close watch.

Speaking after the debate, Smith said:
"I felt a little sorry for the Commissioner on this one, he had a bit of a doing from the Chamber and I'm not quite sure he deserved it. However, the Parliament has an important role to play in trade negotiations and, by starting negotiations without informing the Parliament, the Commission was asking for trouble.

"I am philosophically in favour of free trade, subject of course to the European public interest being put first. We have seen in the past, from certain quarters of the Commission, a neoliberal approach to trade, and a painful eagerness to stay on the right side of the unelected WTO, which is after all a legislative trade framework without any democratic legitimacy. MEPs are directly elected to represent the interests of our citizens and our producers, and it is emphatically not in the long term interests of either that we make the EU dependent upon food imports.

"We also hear the rather difficult phrase from the Commission, that they seek "equivalent standards" over issues like animal health, and traceability. This is not good enough. There is a world of difference between "equivalent" and "identical", and what is good for our producers must be good enough for third countries too, after all nobody is forcing them to import to our territory.

"The Commissioner accepted his tongue-lashing with good grace, and I do not think the Commission was seeking to pull a fast one - they just forgot to tell us in good time - so some people thought there was something afoot when I think the Commission genuinely wants to make progress, probably while the Brazilian President is still in office which runs out fairly soon.

"We gave the Commission a bloody nose on Brazilian beef, we will keep a close eye on this one too."