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Belgium region 'totally opposes' Mercosur trade pact

A cow at an agricultural fair in Wallonia, where farmers have expressed concern about the EU-Mercosur trade pact (AFP Photo/JOHN THYS)

Brussels (AFP) - Belgium's southern Wallonia region, which briefly blocked an EU-Canada trade deal in 2016, said Monday it was "totally opposed" to Europe's new trade pact negotiated with South America's Mercosur grouping.

The head of government for the French-speaking region, Elio Di Rupo, told the broadcaster RTBF that, "in its current state", the agreement struck in principle mid-2019 after two decades of negotiations was a non-starter.

"For the Walloon government, it's no," he said.

The EU-Mercosur deal aims to allow free trade between Europe and four South American countries: agricultural giants Brazil and Argentina, and their smaller neighbours Paraguay and Uruguay.

It is the biggest trade deal the European bloc has negotiated.

But after the tentative agreement was struck in June, opposition has been voiced by European farming and environmental groups, and France threatened last year to block ratification because of alleged inaction by Brazil to curb fires ravaging the Amazon forest.

Di Rupo, a Socialist former Belgian prime minister, said he feared the effects of the trade deal on farming in Wallonia. He also demanded Mercosur apply EU health standards.

For the EU-Mercosur deal to come into being it needs to be ratified across the EU, including by the four regions that make up Belgium.

In October 2016, Wallonia was the only entity to block the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between the EU and Canada, for similar reasons. That triggered several days of crisis before the region finally ratified after amending the law on the treaty.

Wallonia's parliament will in the next few days hold a vote calling on the regional government to formally declare its opposition to Belgium's national government.

Other EU members, among the France, Ireland, Austria and Luxembourg, have also expressed reservations about the Mercosur deal.