RIO DE JANEIRO, March 16 (UPI) -- Prospects for a workable trade pact between Latin America's Mercosur economic bloc and the European Union appear far from certain amid continuing bickering over the impact that free commodities trade may have on European farming communities.
European agricultural industries are fearful of competitive or cheaper produce from Latin America stifling competition from European farmers. The European Union's negotiators, for their part, want an early accord to start benefiting from the region's growing spending power and vast consumer markets.
Mercosur nations have a combined population 267 million and a total gross domestic product of $2.9 trillion.
This week EU and Mercosur negotiations began a new round of talks in Brussels on finalizing the draft of an association and trade agreement. Although draft texts for signature were discussed there was little sign of an early agreement on the sensitive matter of freer Latin American meat exports.
European livestock farmers are up in arms over suggestions that in return for securing a Mercosur open-door policy on European exports to Latin America the EU may liberalize meat imports from Mercosur member states Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay as well as associate members Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru and Venezuela, a full member awaiting ratification.
EU and Mercosur negotiators are to meet again in May before a planned summit of Mercosur leaders where aspects of the trade pact would be up for discussion before final signing.
Mercosur nations and the EU began talking about a new trade pact in May 2010 after a hiatus of several years. Despite official EU keenness to push the talks forward, individual European nations were hesitant because of angry response to the talks from farmers' representatives who see a pact with Latin America as a major threat to their interests.
European Commission officials at the talks said they would seek to accommodate views of the European agriculture sector, which remains bitterly opposed to any trade deal with Latin America.
The European Parliament threw its support behind EU farmers and members pledged to safeguard the interests of European agricultural lobbyists during the negotiation processes involving Mercosur members Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.
European farmers are especially concerned over large-scale exports of beef from Latin America. Mercosur is the world's leading producer and exporter of beef.
However, Mercosur is aiming for a trade-off during the pact negotiation whereby it gets freer access to European markets in return for concessions to European businesses and exporters to Latin America.