The EU negotiated a preliminary agreement for a free trade agreement with the Mercosur bloc, comprising Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay. A key priority for the South American countries was access to the European agriculture market, where they hoped to sell meat, poultry and other products. The deal was reached last year, although it is still to be fully ratified. The Mercosur agreement hasn’t come without fierce criticism from within the EU, though.
German Green MEP Martin Hausling hit out at the bloc, branding the deal “worse than we feared”.
French MEP Gilles Lebreton of the right-wing nationalist party Rassemblement National added: “This is an agreement that is dangerous for our farmers.”
According to conservationists, the rising demand for South American agricultural products could accelerate the Amazon region’s deforestation – a claim the European Commission disagrees with.
There are also fears from farmers in Europe that meat from South American markets doesn’t conform to the same high standards as in Europe.
The Mercosur trade deal proved so unpopular that French President Emmanuel Macron was urged to oppose it last month.
The French government said in a statement: “The draft agreement has no provision to impose discipline on the practices of the Mercosur countries in the fight against deforestation.
“This is the major shortcoming in this agreement and this is the main reason why, as it stands, France opposes the draft agreement.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel last month expressed “significant doubts” over the deal, given the extent of deforestation, her spokesman said.
Parliaments in Austria, the Netherlands and the Belgian region of Wallonia have also indicated their opposition to the deal in its current form.
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They added: “In these conditions, France will oppose the Mercosur deal as it is.”
Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s right wing president, was accused of encouraging loggers to start fires and of not directing enough resources to fight the blazes.
He has claimed that environmental groups have turned to arson to discredit the country.
Mr Varadkar said: “Bolsonaro’s efforts to blame the fires on environmental NGOs is Orwellian.”
French farmers have also protested against the deal in recent years, taking to the streets across France in small groups in 2018, blocking traffic and displaying banners.
An organisation representing ethanol companies in Europe, ePure, claimed the EU had thrown the industry and farmers “under the bus”, lambasting the bloc for hypocrisy when a preliminary agreement was reached.