Weeks ahead of a joint EU-Latin America summit, a trade deal remains elusive

BRUSSELS — Just weeks before a joint summit between the European Union and Latin American nations was supposed to seal the oft-delayed trade deal, the writing on the wall of the EU headquarters on Thursday made it clear why it cannot happen.

“STOP EU-MERCOSUR”, the environmental group Greenpeace wrote giant letters on the building where the EU’s 27 trade ministers met. Final differences were assessed before a massive cooperation deal for the EU and the grouping of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay.

And if environmentalists’ objections were posted outside the building, it was clear that despite almost a quarter of a century of negotiations between ministers and a four-year “agreement in principle”, the final signature was complicated.

EU Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis said the July 18-19 summit would be “a very important milestone for these negotiations”, without saying a deal could be reached.

The remaining claims were clearly stated.

“France has set very clear conditions. It should be noted that the boxes are not ticked at this stage,” said French Trade Minister Olivier Becht.

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Like France, Ireland has significant agricultural interests to protect against cheap South American imports. His trade minister, Simon Coveney, similarly did not commit himself to any agreement by the time of the summit.

The main challenge, he said, was to “ensure that there are no significant trade disruptions for our beef products sold in the European Union. Ireland is the largest beef exporter in the Northern Hemisphere”.

This, of course, was not Greenpeace’s concern, according to which the planned agreement will lead to a sharp increase in the use of pesticides produced in the EU.

“We need a complete shutdown of this toxic trade deal. If it was meant to be sustainable, it should be completely renegotiated,” said Lis Cunha, Greenpeace Trade campaigner.

“Like beef, like pesticides, like internal combustion engine cars — as long as these products are boosting business, it doesn’t make sense,” Cunha said. “It’s a bad deal. It’s a disaster for nature and the climate.”

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Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva visited Spain only last month to make progress on the agreement.

If accepted, the agreement will integrate a market of about 800 million people, about a quarter of the world’s gross domestic product, and more than $100 billion in bilateral trade in goods and services. The agreement would reduce tariffs and make it easier for agricultural exporters to enter the EU market and for European producers to access the Mercosur countries.

Both Brazil and Spain hold the presidency of their trade bloc until July, and both want a deal. Within the EU, the election of Lula after the presidential term of Jair Bolsonaro raised hopes. Bolsonaro has flouted environmental authorities, encouraged illegal gold mining in indigenous lands, and overseen a surge in deforestation to the fastest rate in two decades.

“We understand that the situation has changed a lot on the other side of Mercosur, and in Brazil, for example, we have a government that is very dedicated and committed to protecting the environment,” said Xiana Méndez Bertolo, Spain’s trade minister.

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Source: https://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/weeks-eu-latin-american-joint-summit-trade-deal-99603250