European farming group Copa and Cogeca has stepped up its fight to stop an EU-Mercosur trade deal opening the door to a flood of cheap food imports from Latin America.
Farmers fear huge increases in the amount of beef, sugar and poultry imported from Mercosur countries with lower production standards could put their jobs at risk.
EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom and Farming Commissioner Phil Hogan are due to meet foreign ministers from the Mercosur bloc this week to close a deal which would allow more Latin American beef to enter the EU in exchange for lower tariffs on European exports such as cars.
Though it is not yet known if the UK will replicate the arrangements after Brexit, the Government has been keen to copy and paste existing EU trade agreements and the Mercosur bloc has expressed an interest in signing a separate, similar deal with Britain.
Copa and Cogeca secretary-general Pekka Pesonen said: “The EU has given far too much on agriculture to the Mercosur countries in the negotiations, without getting much in return.
“A Joint Research Centre (JRC) report shows a potential trade deal could cost the EU agricultural sector over €7 billion.
“The majority of EU beef, sugar, poultry and orange juice imports already come from these countries.
“Over 75 per cent of beef imported into the EU, mainly high value cuts, are from Mercosur countries.
“For broilers, an extended offer in cuts could lead to a loss of outlets for 150 million broilers produced in the EU, reducing growth and jobs in our rural areas.
“The sugar and ethanol sectors are also heavily subsidised by Mercosur countries. These countries have not shown any commitment to reduce this.
“We consequently urge the EU to keep duties on imports in order to avoid oversupply on our domestic market and ensure a level playing field.”
Though Commissioner Hogan previously promised beef would be ‘off the menu’ in trade talks, it is thought pressure from countries such as Germany, Italy and Spain, which are pushing for the deal to be concluded, may have forced a change in position.