Austrian farmers: Ursula von der Leyen is killing agriculture
Farmers say it is outrageous that the EU-Mercosur trade deal puts them in a near impossible situation and at a serious competitive disadvantage on EU markets.
Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called for the swift implementation of the Mercosur agreement, which has caused tensions in Austria. Farmers primarily lay the blame at the EU’s leadership in Brussels for the fact that they will soon find themselves in an impossible situation on the market. This is the so-called EU-Mercosur trade agreement, between the European Union and the Mercosur countries (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay), which has been under negotiation for years. While the EU mainly supplies the region with automobiles, spare parts, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, it imports agricultural products.
The agreement formally aims to increase bilateral trade and investment and reduce tariffs and non-tariff barriers to trade, especially for small and medium-sized enterprises. It is beneficial for both the EU and Mercosur countries, as it creates opportunities for growth, jobs and sustainable development for both parties, the European Commission says. However, the environmentalists do not see it this way, arguing
that the EU is not only failing to protect the environment through the agreement, but it is also putting another nail into its coffin by providing an additional incentive to increase arable land, including the destruction of rain forests in South America.
Austrian farmers also have a very different view of the consequences of the agreement compared to the European Commission. They fear that they will not be able to compete with the cheap South American goods flooding the EU market.
Through the agreement, the Mercosur countries will eliminate tariffs on 91 per cent of their imports from the EU, while 92 per cent of imports into the EU from Mercosur countries will be tariff-free. Currently, for example, honey from Mercosur countries is subject to a tariff of 17.4 per cent, while beef products are between 40 and 45 per cent. For the latter, for example, the EU opens its markets to a quota of 99,000 tonnes of beef per year at a preferential tariff of 7.5 per cent.
Farmers find it outrageous that while they must adhere to strict EU standards and maintain quality, South American goods are not subject to the same strict rules, so farmers there can send much lower quality goods to the EU at much lower prices than European farmers. They believe that Ursula von der Leyen is killing Austrian farmers by supporting the agreement. The right-wing Austrian Freedom Party (FPO) agrees with this opinion. FPO politician Gerald Hauser told parliament that
“this agreement would be the ultimate blow to our farmers and would also lead to increased deforestation in South America’s tropical rain forests. Such a trade agreement would not help anyone, especially Austrian consumers and farmers, except for a few big companies”.
The FPO politician also noted that
“it is crystal clear that the European Commission is pursuing the “global money aristocracy”‘s policy of patronage and that nation states are increasingly being deprived of their powers”.
FPO MEP Roman Haider also commented on the idea of the European Commission, which would make it impossible for Austrian farmers to survive. He believes that the agreement would massively disadvantage farmers, who have to follow extremely high standards, and open the door to food produced under questionable conditions.
Unfortunately, in the European Parliament, some MEPs, such as the Austrian governing party and European Parliament Vice-President Othmar Karas, have been supporting the agreement, making it difficult for Austria to take a united stand against the Mercosur agreement,
the right-wing politician said, adding that the agreement is a direct attack on agriculture and therefore on farmers’ livelihoods, and it must be stopped.