BRASILIA (Reuters) - France will propose changing the European Commission’s mandate to negotiate a trade deal with South America’s Mercosur bloc to include food safety provisions, its envoy to Brazil said on Monday.
French ambassador Michel Miraillet said there was heightened concern in the European Union over food safety after a series of recent scandals, including the bribing of inspectors by meatpackers in Brazil to overlook sanitary practices.
Miraillet said France expected “four or five” EU countries to back its plan to propose updating the Commission’s negotiating authority.
“We don’t know what will happen, but this is one proposal that will be made. The mandate dates from 1999 and needs to be modified,” the diplomat told Brazilian reporters.
The government of President Emmanuel Macron is under pressure from French farmers to avoid competition from cheaper Mercosur products, especially meat and ethanol.
At a gathering of farmers and food producers last week, Macron said he was in no hurry to conclude by the end of the year trade negotiations that have dragged on for 18 years.
Brazil’s foreign ministry declined to comment on the ambassador’s comments.
A European diplomat, who asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter, said France’s planned request was a delaying tactic.
A Brazilian diplomat, who also requested anonymity, said the French proposal was an attempt to “intimidate” Mercosur, whose members are seeking greater market access for food exports to the EU.
Mercosur members Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay want the EU to improve an offer to open its markets to South American beef and ethanol if it wants to seal a trade deal by year-end.
Europe has offered to allow 70,000 tonnes of beef and 600,000 tonnes of ethanol to enter the EU with reduced import duties, which Brazilian and Argentinian negotiators described as “disappointing.”
The European Commission, which negotiates on behalf of all EU countries, has to balance the interests of members pushing for a trade deal and those such as France and Ireland that are concerned about a glut of agricultural imports from Mercosur.
Reporting by Lisandra Paraguassú; Writing by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Rosalba O'Brien