Breeders fear EU-Mercosur pact will affect Belgium business

A Limousin breed cow is held by the bridle after a competition during the Libramont outdoor agricultural fair in Libramont, Belgium. (AFP)
Updated 29 July 2019

Breeders fear EU-Mercosur pact will affect Belgium business

  • Farmers at Libramont are unconvinced and pessimistic for the future despite the impressive size and quality of their livestock, proudly on display
  • Farmers to face competition from the vast ranches of South America

LIBRAMONT, BELGIUM: The Libramont agricultural show is the highlight of the year for Belgium’s proud beef industry, but this year even the sunny skies of western Europe’s record heatwave couldn’t chase one looming shadow away.

The breeders parading their famous Belgian Blue beef cattle will soon face competition from the vast ranches of the South American pampas.
Resistance is building among some European farmers against a draft trade deal reached by EU officials with the Mercosur group — Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.
After 20 years of negotiations, officials in Brussels — 140 kilometers (80 miles) northwest of the pastures of Ardennes — are very pleased with the accord that could save European exporters €4 billion ($4.5 billion) in duties per year.
But, as member states decide whether to ratify and implement the deal, EU farmers and environmentalists are less excited.
Beef breeders in particular say that EU quality standards are higher than those in Latin America, and fear a flood of cheap meat will drive them to the wall.
“We are already close to over-production in all of Europe and in Wallonia as well ... The last thing we need is Brazilian meat, especially when we see the conditions in which it is produced,” warns Hughes Falys, beef producer and farmers’ union spokesman.
“Mercosur isn’t a case of ‘Yes, maybe’ or ‘Yes, if’. Mercosur is ‘No!’,” declares the Wallonia regional Farming Minister Rene Collin to loud applause.
Collin might not be a regular on the G20 summit circuit or at WTO get-togethers. But the world’s trade negotiators may find they have to listen to the French-speaking Belgian region of Wallonia, home to only 3.6 million people.
In 2016, the region held up Belgium’s signature of the CETA trade deal between the entire EU and Canada, and it could make life complicated for Brussels once again.
“We made them evolve CETA. We made them put important safeguard clauses in there. We’ll be just as vigilant when it comes to Mercosur,” Collin told AFP at the four-day fair and trade show.

BACKGROUND

• Resistance is building among some European farmers against a draft deal reached by EU officials with the Mercosur group.

• After 20 years of negotiations, officials in Brussels are very pleased with the accord that could save European exporters €4 billion in duties per year.

• But, as member states decide whether to ratify and implement the deal, EU farmers and environmentalists are less excited.

And he warns that the regional Parliament and Belgium’s members of the European Parliament could vote against ratification.
The European Commission has tried to reassure farmers, so far to no avail.
The deal contains two big promises to the sector: Increased beef imports will be limited to 99,000 tons a year, and €1 billion will be set aside for European farmers.
Farmers at Libramont are unconvinced and pessimistic for the future despite the impressive size and quality of their livestock, proudly on display.
“Lots of older farmers find it difficult to sell up, especially livestock farmers,” says Beatrice Ghyselen, a 61-year-old farmer from Vedrin, outside the Wallon capital Namur.


Frank Kane’s Davos diary: Swiss efficiency lapses, but so far Davos lives up to the cuckoo-clock image

Updated 22 January 2020

Frank Kane’s Davos diary: Swiss efficiency lapses, but so far Davos lives up to the cuckoo-clock image

Davos comes and Davos goes, but over the last five decades, the one thing you can rely on is Swiss efficiency, right? The trains run on time, the cuckoo clocks chime on the hour, and the snow is swept from the pathways within minutes of the first fake falling. That is the common (even cliched) view of the Alpine nation and its showpiece event, the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos.

But — and whisper it very gently beneath your breath — maybe the legendary standards of Swiss efficiency are slipping as the WEF celebrates its 50th birthday. Evidence of a lapse from the highest levels of attainment came at Zurich Airport, when the luggage belt seized up inexplicably, and a full 10 minutes elapsedbefore a maintenance man came to attend to it. Tut tut.

Further signs of falling standards were on display at the railway station. The booking desks were besieged, as usual, by WEF delegates keen to complete the final leg of their journey up the Magic Mountain — a two-hour rail journey involving two stops at increasingly higher altitudes.

But only two of the 10 grills were manned, and the line grew longer and more grumpy with each passing minute. The mood was not helped when some trains were canceled and an extra hour was added to the journey. There was much muttering and dark looks shot when the train finally pulled into Klosters.

But thankfully, once you got to the heart of WEF-land, normal service was resumed. There had been a reasonable fall of snow that morning, which gave the place its usual fairytale appearance, but no traffic snarl ups as in previous years, when massive snowfall had caused the place to grind to a halt.

The shuttle buses that are the arterial life-channels of Davos — for those whose budgets do not extend to the black Mercedes limo — were running with their usual Swiss punctuality: Every 10 minutes or so, or even more frequently during peak rush hours.

These, in my experience over the past few years, are becoming frequently extended. Having battled through the registration process and attended one event at the nearby Seehof hotel, I imagined it would be easy to catch a ride on a virtually empty shuttle back to Klosters at around 9.30 p.m. But even at that hour, there was a long queue of unhappy souls waiting to make the same 20-minute trip to the other side of the mountain and their warm, welcoming hotel rooms.

It was the same thing on the opening morning of the annual meeting. I left my hotel — the homely and comfortable Cresta in Klosters — at 7 a.m. in the dark, and at minus 5 degrees Celsius. Again, there was a crowd of people standing huddled at the shuttle stop, shivering and stamping their feet.

The WEF shuttle service was up to the job, however, and I got into the Congress Hall with little trouble. The airport-style screening process — maybe a little more thorough than usual in view of the impending arrival of US President Donald Trump — passed smoothly. One request though: Please WEF, install some hot-air machines in the security hall. The body shock when you remove outer clothing to pass through the metal detectors was wicked.

Then down to business, which for a journalist at Davos means finding somewhere in the congress complex where you can rest a laptop while also providing a good people-watching vantage point. Over the years, I have learned that the Central Lounge — strategically located between the main plenary meeting halls and the (private) members lounge and bilateral rooms — is the perfect spot. Now, who will come my way in Davos 2020?