On 21 April, the European Union and Mexico concluded the modernisation of the “Global Agreement” they initially signed in 1997. The text now includes a chapter on animal welfare and antimicrobial resistance – sending a strong statement to the world that animal welfare matters and is critical to protect Europe’s values and Europeans’ health.
Devoting a standalone chapter to animal welfare cooperation, separating this issue from sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures, has been a strong demand of Eurogroup for Animals, which has been lobbying for years in favour of a comprehensive animal protection chapter in FTAs. As such the EU-Mexico agreement sets a ground-breaking precedent for international trade policy and for animal welfare.
As the world’s fourth producer of eggs (all of them caged), seventh of poultry meat, sixth of beef, and fifteenth of pork, Mexico is a key country for cruelly produced animal products. It has the second largest amount of livestock among Latin American countries, behind Brazil, accounting for more than 600 million farm animals (about 10% of the EU’s produce), most of which are reared in poor welfare conditions.
“I welcome the inclusion for the first time in an EU Free Trade Agreement (FTA) of a chapter on animal welfare. I hope it can be used as a benchmark in current and future trade negotiations. It is fundamental that the EU uses its FTAs to promote its high animal welfare standards in the rest of the world.” says MEP David Martin when asked for a comment upon the release of the agreement’s text.
The text is the first EU FTA ever to include, in a groundbreaking standalone chapter, a recognition of ‘animal sentience’, a fundamental European value enshrined in article 13 of the “Treaty on the functioning of the European Union”, but currently not reflected in Mexican federal law. By combining animal welfare and antimicrobial resistance into one chapter, the European Commission also makes a strong political statement on the link between poor welfare husbandry practices and the excessive use of antimicrobials in animal production . Eurogroup for Animals welcomes this recognition as livestock farming is the sector in which antibiotics are more heavily (mis)used worldwide.
“It is reassuring to see the European Commission using the opportunities provided by international trade to drive better standards in animal welfare. But there’s also fear: the language contained in the chapter still refers to the non-binding OIE standards, which are considerably lower than EU standards, and it seems that trade preferences have been granted without any condition related to animal welfare standards. Preferential access will open up our markets for lower welfare imports and undermine the competitiveness and resilience of EU producers who will object to any improved or new animal welfare standards. This is the story of the race to the bottom in terms of legal standards for animal welfare. We therefore urge the Commission to introduce perfectly legitimate conditional liberalisation as the next step in maturing trade agreements.” says Reineke Hameleers, Director of Eurogroup for Animals.
In return for increased access to the Mexican market, Europe granted considerable trade preferences to Mexican beef, egg products, pork and poultry meat to enter the EU. While at the moment the level of Mexican exports to the EU in those products is quite low, almost non-existent, this could now quickly change resulting in a flood of cheap, lower-welfare Mexican animal produce reaching poorly informed European consumers.
Even if the new FTA’s language is undeniably ground-breaking for the animal cause, it remains unclear what this will practically mean for the fate of food producing animals given the ‘unconditional’ nature of trade preferences offered. Besides a commitment to better enforce OIE standards – considered by all as absolute bare minimum in terms of animal welfare – and a stronger cooperation mechanism involving civil society on both sides of the FTA, the agreement offers little guarantees for genuine change for animals.
Cooperation mechanisms are indeed strengthened compared to previous FTA’s. The text foresees the creation of a specific ‘animal welfare working group’ for the Parties under the standalone welfare chapter, which allows for the first time the involvement of external stakeholders, and extends the monitoring mandate of the ‘domestic advisory groups’ (composed by NGOs on both sides) under the Trade and Sustainable Development chapter to now cover the implementation of the entire trade agreement. However, deprived of explicit sanctions, the chapter remains as toothless as its predecessors.
Eurogroup for Animals believes these stronger cooperation mechanisms provide an opportunity to help Mexico meet at least the OIE standards and will work hand in hand with Mexican animal advocates to mitigate possible adverse consequences of this FTA.
Sophie De Jonckheere, Communications and Development Manager, email@example.com
Stephanie Ghislain, Trade & Animal Welfare Project Leader, +32 (0)2 740 08 96, firstname.lastname@example.org
 The ‘Global Agreement’ is the name that has been given to the first EU-Mexico association agreement, which covered both trade and political cooperation.
 In 2016, the FAO estimated the country counted around 550 million chickens, 34 million heads of cattle and 17 million pigs.
 Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) has become a global concern due to its potentially devastating consequences for animal and human health alike. AMR results from the excessive or inappropriate use of antimicrobial agents, which can generate resistance in bacteria, so that these may no longer respond to antibiotic treatment. When antibiotic treatments become ineffective, the possibility of treating common infections is compromised, more expensive agents and therapies must be used, and when even the most recent therapies fail, the consequences can be extreme. The excessive recourse to antibiotics in human medicine is the major cause of AMR. However, the overuse of antibiotics in intensive animal production also contributes significantly to the emergence of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics used in human medicine.