Spain’s main parties clash over EU trade policy as farmers take to the streets



Spanish farmers on Wednesday (21 February) staged their biggest rally yet since protests began two weeks ago, as the ruling Socialist party and the centre-right opposition clashed in parliament over border controls and ‘mirror clauses’ in EU trade deals.

“Everything that enters the EU is perfectly controlled,” Spain’s Agriculture Minister Luis Planas told the Spanish parliament on Wednesday, adding that the EU has the border with the most controls and the highest requirements “along with the United States”.

Planas, a socialist, was responding to accusations from the centre-right People’s Party (PP)  that there were fewer checks on imports from third countries than on those produced in the EU.

With accusations of “unfair competition” from third countries at the heart of farmers’ discontent across Europe, both parties have become increasingly vocal about the need for mirror clauses in the EU’s trade agreements – which would ensure that traded products meet the same standards as their EU counterparts.

According to the ‘mirror clauses’ principle, producers in third countries that want to export to the EU market must comply with the same strict rules as EU farmers.

Planas promised to defend this principle “once again” at the meeting of EU agriculture ministers on Monday (26 February) together with his French counterpart Marc Fesneau – who has also been vocal about the need for reciprocity in production requirements.

Tractor rally in the capital

While, in the past two weeks, protests in Spain have taken place at the regional and local levels, on Wednesday 500 tractors pulled up in Madrid.

The demonstration was organised by the agricultural group Unión de Uniones, and there were several clashes with police, who prevented the farmers from reaching the headquarters of the Ministry of Agriculture.

“We have plenty of reasons” was the motto of the rally, as farmers protested for reasons ranging from the burden of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to alleged imbalances in the food chain and competition from third countries.

Meanwhile, farmers plan to blockade the ports of Algeciras – the largest in Spain – and Valencia on Thursday (22 February).

Tighter controls on imports at the border

In a bid to appease farmers’ discontent, Planas last Thursday (15 February) presented a package of 18 measures and demands to be taken to the EU. Four of these focused on trade.

Planas said that he would urge the European Commission to improve the efficiency of the customs union by improving coordination between national authorities, and that Spain would reorganise its border checks to step up control.

This is one of the demands of the agricultural organisation Union de Uniones, according to its coordinator Luis Cortés. “The control of the entry of products through Spanish ports is the exclusive responsibility of the Spanish government,” he told national broadcaster RTVE during the demonstration.

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