By Michel Rose
PARIS (Reuters) – France is not against a long-delayed trade deal with South America’s Mercosur bloc but doesn’t want to rush negotiations it says would risk seeing the deal rejected by European parliaments if it didn’t answer environmental and social concerns.
The European Commission has said it is a priority to conclude a deal, more than 20 years in the making, with the Mercosur bloc of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay as the EU seeks new allies to reduce its dependence on China and the United States.
France, where the deal is unpopular with local farmers, wants the Mercosur side to agree to various additional commitments, notably on respecting EU rules on deforestation, before it can back it.
“We need to give time, time,” Olivier Becht, France’s trade minister, told Reuters in an interview from Brazil where he was meeting ministers and business representatives.
“We obviously need to wrap up. It’s been 23 years that talks are ongoing. But the fact it took 23 years means it can take a couple of extra months too,” he said.
Spain, which will hold the European Union’s rotating presidency for six months from July 1, is keen to conclude a deal with countries it has close historical, busines and linguistic ties.
Becht said he will travel to Spain next week to tell his Spanish counterparts he understood the strategic value of the deal, but that rushing a deal would risk meeting resistance from EU lawmakers who need to approve the deal.
He also added that France will ask for all national parliaments in the EU to be given a say on the deal, because of the political nature of the agreement. Trade policy is an EU prerogative and votes in national parliament are not automatic.
(Reporting by Michel Rose; Editing by GV De Clercq)
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