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France casts doubt on giant Mercosur trade deal

3 min

Paris (AFP)

France said Tuesday it was "not ready" to ratify a huge trade deal agreed by the European Union and four South American countries, as farmers and environmentalists step up their resistance to the accord.

The deal announced Friday by the EU and Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay is the largest ever struck by the EU.

It covers markets that total approximately 780 million consumers representing a quarter of global GDP.

But while President Emmanuel Macron initially called it a "good" deal, government spokeswoman Sibeth Ndiaye said France would not be rushing to ratify it before seeing all the details.

Citing the 2017 EU-Canada trade deal, which France has yet to ratify, she told the BFM news channel: "We will do the same thing with the Mercosur countries... We will look at it in detail and depending on the details we will decide.

"France is not yet ready to ratify (the deal)," she said.

The EU and Mercosur countries hailed the deal, which was 20 years in the making, as historic.

EU leaders also presented it as a strong signal in favour of international trade at a time of growing protectionism in the US, which is embroiled in a trade war with China.

But the road to ratification by all 28 EU members could be a long one given the growing public hostility to free trade deals on the continent, even in traditionally trade-friendly countries.

- 'Dark moment' -

Under the deal, 91 percent of customs duties on European imports into the Mercusur countries will eventually be scrapped.

In return, the EU will abolish 92 percent of duties currently imposed on South American imports.

The negotiations had repeatedly stalled over the years because of opposition among European beef producers concerned about the impact of meat imports from Argentina and Brazil in particular.

The Copa-Cogeca union, which represents 23 million farmers across the EU, warned the deal "will go down in history as a very dark moment".

Climate activists too have been up in arms over the deal, accusing Brazil of sacrificing its rainforests and indigenous peoples to the powerful agrifood sector.

French environmentalist and European parlimentarian Yannick Jadot said it was "shameful" of the European Commission to have signed a pact with climate-sceptic Brazilian leader Jair Bolsonaro, who has threatened to pull out of the Paris deal on tackling global warming.

Under the deal, Mercosur countries will be able to export beef, sugar and poultry to Europe at preferential rates.

They will in return progressively eliminate duties on European cars and car parts, among other products, and open up their public sectors to EU companies.

The deal entails a "safeguard mechanism" allowing both parties to temporarily restrict agricultural imports in case of a deluge of imports that could harm local producers.

It also contains a provision allowing European authorities to suspend approval for products that they perceive as a risk to human, animal or plant health.

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