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Irish parliament calls on government to thwart EU-Mercosur deal

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07/11/2019 | 01:56pm EDT
European Union flags flutter outside the European Commission headquarters, in Brussels

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ireland's parliament voted on Thursday to press the government to lead opposition inside the European Union to a draft trade deal that Brussels has struck with the Mercosur bloc of South American countries.

The EU two weeks ago became the first major partner with which Mercosur has struck a trade pact. Mercosur committed to more open markets in the face of a rising tide of protectionism and offered EU firms a potential head start.

Ireland, as one of the smaller members of the 28-member EU, would need other member states to help form a blocking minority if it sought to reject the deal, as ratification will eventually be put to a qualified majority vote.

So far the Mercosur deal, which has the potential to boost South American beef exports into the EU, has also drawn resistance from France, home to the EU's largest farming sector.

Irish lawmakers defeated a government amendment by an almost two-to-one margin that it should complete an independent assessment of the draft deal before deciding whether to back it.

The amendment was put down to counter an opposition motion calling on government to use "all legal and political means available to frustrate and thwart" the draft deal that has faced a backlash from Irish farmers and politicians.

Prime Minister Leo Varadkar's minority government routinely loses such non-binding votes but the defeat highlighted the pressure it is under, a day after hundreds of beef farmers marched on parliament outlining their opposition to a deal they say would decimate their industry in Ireland.

Organisers, already under strain due to Brexit, said they would target rural politicians who do not support their goals in Ireland's next parliamentary election, due by early 2021.

Varadkar has said the government would vote against the deal if an assessment shows the risks outweighed the benefits.

(Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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