EU-Latin America trade deal cannot be approved in current form, says Varadkar

Mercosur supporters had hoped for agreement with Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay on deal after new environmental protections sought

The Mercosur trade deal between the European Union and Latin American countries could not be approved in its current form, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told reporters on arrival at a summit of leaders besieged by farmers’ protests.

The deal has been in negotiations for two decades, and supporters had hoped the agreement with Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay could be concluded after new environmental protections were sought.

On Thursday, however, the Taoiseach ruled out ratifying the deal in its current form, following similar remarks earlier this week by French president Emmanuel Macron.

“I also would echo president Macron’s comments in relation to Mercosur. This trade agreement can’t be ratified in its current form,” Mr Varadkar told reporters. “We can’t have a situation whereby we impose environmental regulations for farmers, and allow imports from countries that don’t have those same regulations.”


France has been hard-hit by farmers’ demonstrations in recent weeks, which have blocked roads and attempted to impose a “siege” on Paris with their tractors in protest at environmental rules, increasing costs and competition from cheaper imports.

Protests blocked roads around Brussels ahead of the leaders’ meeting on Thursday, causing widespread disruption as the summit began. Similar protests have taken place in Germany, Romania, the Netherlands and Poland.

The protesters appear to have been undeterred by an announcement by the European Commission on the eve of the summit proposing to suspend plans requiring farmers to leave 4 per cent of their land fallow to get EU subsidies, a measure intended to help halt a collapse in biodiversity.

Mr Varadkar told reporters he understood “the pressures that our farmers are under, whether it’s increased energy costs, fertiliser costs and new environmental regulations”.

“I think the priority for us should be implementing existing rules and regulations, not imposing new additional ones for farmers for the next couple of years,” he said.

Mr Varadkar’s intervention on the stalled trade deal between the EU and the Mercosur countries comes after the European Commission insisted the deal was still alive but will assist French president Emmanuel Macron’s efforts to send the agreement back to the drawing board.

The deal was first agreed in 2019 after two decades of on-again, off-again negotiations but the EU has been seeking additional environmental safeguards in recent talks. The deal is fiercely opposed by many European farming organisations as they fear it will expose them to low-cost competition from countries where they say environmental rules are much looser.

President Macron, who is under pressure from French farmers, recently said the deal was dead, but the commission insisted that talks were ongoing. Mr Varadkar’s intervention on Thursday will tip the scales Mr Macron’s way, as trade deals need to be ratified by all member states.

Irish Government sources said there were also difficulties on the Mercosur side, with Argentina and Paraguay also raising objections

Speaking after the summit, Mr Macron said he was not against a trade deal with Latin American countries in principle but he believes the Mercosur deal, which is years in the making, is now past its sell by date.

“I don’t think we can ask European producers to accept a forced market to respect more rules, and at the same time continue to negotiate free-trade agreements as we did in the 1980s,” he told reporters.

The French president, along with Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and other EU leaders met farmers’ representatives after the summit. “We listen to European farmers,” Ms von der Leyen said.

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Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary is Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times