Not so fast: France's Macron and his farmers get trade onto 'full' EU agenda

Not so fast: France's Macron and his farmers get trade onto 'full' EU agenda


BRUSSELS (Reuters) - French President Emmanuel Macron has succeeded in pushing trade onto the agenda of the European Union summit which starts on Thursday, calling for caution in commercial deals that would bring a surge of beef and other agricultural imports.

Macron said last week that France was in no hurry to a deal with the Mercosur bloc of Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay by the end of the year, a goal the European Commission has set, noting that the mandate dates back to 1999.

France's ambassador to Brazil said on Monday that France would propose changing that mandate to include food safety provision. However, officials said on Wednesday that the mandate was not up for discussion - at least for now.

Trade will, however, be squeezed between the leaders' dinner discussions on foreign policy and Brexit, in an agenda described by one EU diplomat as "very full".

"In trade, it's about having a political discussion linked to the Mercosur file but also going beyond it," a French presidential source said.

EU officials said Macron was concerned the Commission was "running too fast" towards a deal with Mercosur, as it plans to open up talks with Australia and New Zealand, two other countries that want to expand exports of farm products.

France and 10 other countries last month told the Commission, which negotiates trade agreements on behalf of EU nations, that Europe first needed to determine how much beef, ethanol and other farm products it can afford to let in under current and future deals.

EU lawmakers last week backed the start of such free trade talks, while warning negotiators should be cautious about allowing in produce such as butter and beef.

Macron, EU officials said, believed in free trade but wanted to tread carefully. France needed to learn more on the Commission's plan for Australia and New Zealand talks and on whether each set of talks should be split.

An EU court ruling in May opened the door for trade deals to be split in two - one on major parts of market opening that could be fast-tracked and a second centred on investment that would need to wait for approval by national parliaments.

Some EU states are concerned that national parliaments remain involved in the process.

One EU diplomat forecast an "interesting" discussion going beyond just the Mercosur talks, with some countries clearly wanting to accelerate deals and others more concerned about the impact of globalization and parts of society put at risk by increased trade.

(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop Additional reporting by Alissa de Carbonnel, Alastair Macdonald and Jean-Baptiste Vey; Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)