Wallonia is “completely” opposed to a free trade deal between the EU and South American trading bloc Mercosur, the region’s leader said, in a potential blow to the EU as it seeks ratification from member states to implement the deal.
“We are completely opposed to the deal in its current form — for the Walloon government, it’s a no,” the Francophone region’s minister-president, Elio Di Rupo, said in a radio interview.
After years of negotiations, the deal between the EU and Mercosur members Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and Brazil, was approved in principle in the spring of 2019.
Ahead of its implementation, the deal must still be ratified by EU bodies as well as overcome the hurdle of receiving approval from all EU member states.
The agreement would cut tariffs on Mercosur agricultural goods, notably beef and poultry, coming into the EU market. In return, it would grant the EU’s chemicals, automotive and manufacturing industries tariff-free access to the world’s 5th largest market, and improve access to EU wine and cheese producers.
In an interview with RTBF, Di Rupo said the deal would lead to “mass imports” of beef to flood the EU market, putting Walloon farmers on unequal footing with South American ranchers bound by laxer health and production regulations.
“We support international trade but not without conditions — we want the environmental, social and sanitary criteria that apply in Europe and in Belgium to also apply to those countries,” he said.
The leader of the Walloon region also expressed concern over the far-right leader of Brazil, avowed climate-sceptic Jair Bolsonaro, who has been accused of aggravating the deforestation crisis in the Amazon rainforest, after he moved to undermine environmental and indigenous protections to boost the cattle industry.
Di Rupo’s comments come as the Wallon parliament prepares to discuss the deal on Monday, and mark the second time the regional parliament moves against the EU’s trade aspirations.
In 2016, Wallonia delivered a near-fatal blow to the EU’s controversial CETA trade agreement with Canada, blocking its approval by Belgium’s federal government, which ultimately was the last EU government to approve the deal.
The federal government’s approval of international free trade deals depends on their prior approval by the country’s regional governments.
The Francophone leader said Wallonia would not be able to approve the deal if changes were not made to its conditions.
The Wallon government’s concerns have been echoed by Austria, after its parliament rejected the deal over environmental concerns in Brazil, over which France and Ireland have also threated a boycott.