A market with a combined population of 700 million, you’d want to be a part of that wouldn’t you?

But only if you felt that you would be able to compete within that market, and that participation would not be a threat.

The prospect is now on the horizon, however, as the EU and Mercosur - the regional bloc comprising Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay - have announced the resumption of talks to create a free trade area with the potential for exports in both directions of the equivalent of Euro 5,000 million (US$6,174 million).

According to Spanish President Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, if a bilateral Association Agreement is concluded, it would be the most important of its kind to signed by the EU.

Not everyone is happy.

This is not the first time that the two groupings have set out along this path. The last time, talks failed partly as a result of the EU’s position on agriculture, and agriculture could again prove to be a stumbling block.

A number of European countries have already come out against resumption of talks arguing that any agreement would put European producers at risk. Europe’s agricultural unions have also already made their voices heard.

Advertisement

Cogeca president Paolo Bruni has said that a bilateral agreement with Mercosur would casue a sharp rise in, among other things, poultry products, while Copa president Padraig Walsh has been even more critical.

He said: “The move will endanger the EU’s high quality and safety standards. EU producers have to comply with stringent requirements, which makes it much more costly to produce, whilst Mercosur countries do not have to respect the same standards.

“They use growth promoters in their meat even though they are banned in the EU. They have poor antibiotic controls. Their labour conditions are unacceptable by EU standards. They also produce with the benefit of GM technology, which is denied European farmers because, we are told, EU consumers do not want it.

There are always winners and losers in any agreement, but there are estimates that, should a deal be concluded, poultry imports into Europe could jump by as much as 25%.

Mr Zapatero has commented that, in the context of the current economic crisis, the negotiations are especially important, and that the best answer is to open up.

Formal discussions are due to commence in July, but conclusion is expected to be a long and drawn out process and as economies improve that end point may become ever-more distant.