The European Commission dismissed critics of its ambitious trade deal with South America on Monday, insisting that strict EU norms on food standards would be respected.
After two decades of talks, last month the EU announced a preliminary trade agreement with Mercosur countries -- Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay -- one of the biggest such pacts ever negotiated.But the accord has raised alarm in key European countries that the continent will be flooded with beef and other agricultural imports, subjecting domestic farmers to unfair competition and consumers to unsafe food.
Phil Hogan, the EU's Agriculture Commissioner, said "there's a lot of misinformation and misplaced facts in relation to the content of the deal" that had corrupted the debate.
European negotiators have "ensured that we'll have no product arrive in the EU from Mercosur countries without complying with existing EU food safety standards," he added as he arrived for talks with EU ministers.
Hogan, Ireland's EU commissioner, insisted the deal protects the bloc's "climate and environmental ambition" and guarantees Brazil's pledge under the Paris climate agreement to reforest the Amazon by 12 million hectares.
The commission, which negotiates trade deals on behalf of the EU's 28 member states, must still persuade certain European countries on the merits of the deal.
Major farming countries such as France, Ireland and Poland are in particular dubious of the deal's benefits with beef producers on the front lines in fighting the agreement.The deal still faces a long battle before implementation, including ratification in national parliaments throughout the bloc.
The EU is braced for a long protest season by angry farmers seeking to put pressure on their governments. Farmers marched last week on Ireland's parliament, piling muddy boots outside its front gates.