EUmem­bers back NZ free trade deal

Nelson Mail - - BUSINESS - PHILIP BLENKINSOP

Euro­pean Union MPs have backed the start of free trade talks with New Zealand and Aus­tralia, while warn­ing ne­go­tia­tors they should be cau­tious about open­ing up EU mar­kets to farm pro­duce such as but­ter and beef.

Euro­pean Com­mis­sion pres­i­dent Jean-Claude Juncker said last month that the EU should launch and con­clude free trade agree­ments with the two coun­tries in the next two years.

If Juncker’s time­frame is achieved, the EU would get in ahead of Bri­tain, which is also court­ing its two for­mer colonies but can­not ne­go­ti­ate in­de­pen­dent trade deals un­til it leaves the EU in March 2019.

Any fu­ture trade deals would need the ap­proval of the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment.

Its trade com­mit­tee voted 30 to five on Thurs­day in favour of start­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions with New Zealand and Aus­tralia in a res­o­lu­tion set­ting out MPs’ pri­or­i­ties.

High among these was re­spect for ‘‘sen­si­tive’’ agri­cul­tural prod­ucts, with im­ports only phased in over a tran­si­tion pe­riod and safe­guards built in that al­low them to be sus­pended if they are shown to be dam­ag­ing EU farms.

The most sen­si­tive sec­tors, it said, could po­ten­tially be ex­cluded from any deals.

The MPs’ res­o­lu­tion did not spec­ify which prod­ucts were sen­si­tive, but they would cer­tainly in­clude beef, a key ex­port de­mand of South Amer­i­can bloc Mer­co­sur in a deal that could be con­cluded by the end of the year.

EU coun­tries are strug­gling to agree how much beef they should let in, with France, Ire­land and oth­ers say­ing their cat­tle farm­ers are un­der threat.

‘‘We must be aware that the cu­mu­la­tive ef­fect of these deals could be un­bear­able for the sec­tor,’’ French So­cial­ist MP Eric An­drieu said in a de­bate on Wed­nes­day (Thurs­day, NZ time).

‘‘From one trade deal to the next, we could find sec­tors of our agri­cul­ture dis­ap­pear.’’

New Zealand is the world’s top sheep meat and dairy ex­porter, while Aus­tralia is a ma­jor ex­porter of beef and wheat. –AAP

PHOTO: REUTERS

Euro­pean Com­mis­sion pres­i­dent Jean-Claude Juncker wants deals with New Zealand and Aus­tralia within two years.

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