With talks underway in Brussels about the EU-Mercosur trade agreement, we went to Melles, in the Belgian countryside where a number of small-scale beef producers are based. Meat is one of the most contentious topics in the negotiations. Brazil is the second largest meat producer in the world and many Belgians are worried, especially stock breeders like Yves Marie Desbruyeres.
"I would like to be able to function without subsidies, and have a fair price for our products; but in fact, if we have products coming from Mercosur, with lower welfare contributions, income and environmental taxes, we can't be competitive with those countries. I can only hope that your viewers will realise that by eating local Belgian products, they'll help preserve our environment and ecosystems," Yves-Marie explains.
The EU is Mercosur's largest trading partner and talks with Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay have been going on since 2000. Seven countries have written to Brussels to ask for the deal to be sealed ASAP. France and Poland want more "measures to protect the rural economy".The deal would include services and public procurement, as well as sugar, orange juice and rice. The EU Brazil association wants to go even further – in the digital sector.
"Why don't we have a common strategy on artificial intelligence?" asks Luigi Gambardella, President of EU Brazil association. "Europe has just presented its own strategy... why don't we work together, why we don't create a common area for cloud services? What I would very much like to see is more cooperation in the technological start up area. These kind of things are even more important than how much beef you export."
But first, the EU hopes to sell more cars and car parts; as well as machinery, pharmaceuticals and chemicals to the 270 million consumers in that four countries. Wine and dairy too. For the EU institutions, it is about fighting protectionism by delivering fairer trade deals.
"In the concrete trade deal with Mercosur, there is a chapter about sustainable development that would be the most ambitious of every other signed so far and a clear protection of the human rights. It is about a model in which the EU does not only export goods and services; but also exports values and principles. When facing the "rule of the strongest" that Donald Trump wants to impose; we show a different commercial policy," says Spanish Socialist MEP Inmaculada Rodríguez-Piñero.
Not everyone is convinced and fresh protests are inevitable. That said, both blocs have pledged to conclude the deal before the next European Commission comes in to power.