France will not sign up to Mercosur deal at any price: ministers

PARIS (Reuters) - France will not sign up to the European Union’s trade deal with the Mercosur group of South American countries at any cost and it remains to be seen whether Paris will eventually back it, French ministers said on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO: French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian attends a working session during the Foreign ministers of G7 nations meeting in Dinard, France, April 6, 2019. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe/Pool/File Photo

The EU and Mercosur agreed a free trade treaty on Friday, concluding two decades of talks between the blocs.

France, the EU’s largest farming power, has regularly expressed concern over the risk of a surge in South American agricultural exports to Europe.

On Saturday, French President Emmanuel Macron welcomed provisions in the draft accord protecting European geographical origin certification for food products and limiting Mercosur exports of sugar and beef.

But growing uproar among the country’s agricultural community and lawmakers since the deal was announced has put the government under increasing pressure before the agreement goes to parliament for ratification.

“We won’t have an accord at any price. The story isn’t finished,” Agriculture Minister Didier Guillaume told lawmakers.

“We are going to wait see what exactly is in this text but, I would like to tell you that the whole government and I will be vigilant. I will not be the minister who sacrifices French agriculture on the altar of an international agreement.”

Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian echoed that, saying that while the draft trade deal provided opportunities for European exporters, it remained to be seen whether it met France’s demands.

“The red lines we have drawn for the agreement are firm,” he told parliament, adding that it “remained to be seen” whether Paris would support it.

French farmers’ groups are strongly opposed to what they see as lower standards in Mercosur countries, and Guillaume said a ratified deal would notably have to show proper traceability and good livestock practices in the beef sector.

France’s main farmers’ union, the FNSEA, said on Tuesday it had requested a meeting with Macron and was also planning protests over the EU-Mercosur accord.

Reporting by John Irish, Sybille de La Hamaide and Gus Trompiz; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta and Frances Kerry