EU Trade Commissioner Malmström’s trade mission to Australia and New Zealand officially launches trade negotiations with both countries. With a strong mandate from EU Member States, the negotiations will have to cover animal welfare cooperation and wildlife conservation, an opportunity to raise the bar for animals. Both countries are key sources of beef and sheep meat, as well as of wool, and Australia is well known for its weaknesses on wildlife conservation.
EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström has landed in Canberra and Wellington earlier this week with a stronger-than-ever-before mandate to advance animal welfare in the EU’s trade negotiations. Both mandates for trade talks with Australia and New Zealand contain a licence to negotiate an agreement that will “promote continued cooperation and exchanges on animal welfare” while enabling the EU “ to discuss, inter alia, possible commitments on equivalence on animal welfare between the parties.” This stronger language , combined with the first standalone chapter on animal welfare and antimicrobial resistance included in the EU-Mexico trade agreement, demonstrate the growing importance of animal welfare in EU trade policy.
While New Zealand is often portrayed as comparable with the EU in terms of farm animal welfare standards, this is not the case for Australia where standards are lower and not harmonised at federal level when it comes to farm animals. The country also has a poor track record in wildlife protection.
Both countries belong to the EU’s major sources of animal based products, especially of fresh and chilled beef, sheep meat and wool. But because Australia’s regulations exclude farm animals from anti-cruelty laws horrendous practices perpetuate in most of the country’s livestock productions. This includes tail docking, teeth clipping, dehorning and several other practices most of which are addressed by legislation in the EU.
In addition, rules on live transport of animals are outdated, allowing for animals to stay for too long period off feed and water, despite relentless campaigning from animal advocacy groups such as Animals Australia. After the tremendous outrage provoked by the last images of Australian sheep exported alive on ship in horrendous conditions, the general feeling – even among government officials – is that there is a momentum to push for stronger animal welfare legislation federal level hence creating a beneficial window of opportunity for the EU’s stepped up animal welfare ambitions.
Australia is also a key country for wildlife. It is home to more species than any other developed country, most of them endemic. It also is the country with the highest loss of mammal species in the world in the past 200 years with over 50 species disappearing .
According to several scholars and civil society organisations, Australian policies on threatened species are poorly run and coordinated. The case of several shark species, all of which declared as endangered or vulnerable to extinction by international bodies, that can still be fished for their meat and fins exemplifies this poor management. So does Australia’s determination to continue hunting kangaroos, despite reports underlining the cruelty of such practice, the risk it raises for the emblematic species’ conservation and the concerns in terms of public health.
“The EU must seize the opportunity of trade negotiations with Australia and New Zealand, two like-minded developed countries, to include strong provisions on animal welfare and conservation” commented Reineke Hameleers, Eurogroup for Animals Director, when referring to Commissioner Malmström’s latest trade mission. She added “The mandates granted to the Commission mention commitments to equivalence and we do hope that this means for the partner with lower standards to raise them accordingly. With Australia, there is a clear need for animal welfare standards to be increased and for more efforts to be made on wildlife conservation. With New Zealand, there is a unique opportunity to set a precedent by including stronger and more detailed provisions on animal welfare and conservation in this trade agreement.”
Sophie De Jonckheere, Communications and Development Manager, firstname.lastname@example.org
Stephanie Ghislain, Trade & Animal Welfare Project leader, +32 (0)2 740 08 96 email@example.com