Let’s not rush the EU-Mercosur trade agreement

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Let’s not rush the EU-Mercosur trade agreement

4 December 2023
News
With the recent election of Javier Milei as President of Argentina, a far-right libertarian who has denied human-induced climate change, the European Commission is again accelerating the negotiations to finally conclude the EU-Mercosur trade agreement under the Brazilian presidency of Mercosur, before Javier Milei takes office on 10 December.

The EU and Mercosur countries (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay) concluded a free trade agreement (FTA) in 2019 that has been in a stalemate since then. Following massive pushback from civil society organisations, the European Parliament stated that it would not ratify the agreement “as it stands”. Some Member States followed suit and publicly opposed the FTA, calling for significant amendments such as requiring EU-equivalent production standards, including on animal welfare, for imported products.   

To unlock the stalemate, the European Commission and Mercosur countries have been  negotiating a “joint instrument”, which was purported to address the sustainability issues created by the FTA. However, the proposed joint instrument appears to fail to add new obligations, only offering further detail to the language already included in the agreement. There is neither commitment to tackle environmental concerns nor any additional enforceable measures. 

Eurogroup for Animals recalls that there are intrinsic issues with the agreement that would need fixing before the deal is ratified and implemented. Even with the joint instrument, the agreement would still reinforce the intensification of animal farming, in particular beef and poultry production, rendering investments in these sectors more lucrative and increasing the risks of deforestation and human rights abuses due to the EU's demand for commodities such as soya, beef and poultry. 

Existing EU legislation cannot prevent these consequences. The long awaited revision of the animal welfare legislation could incentivise sustainable methods of production in Mercosur countries as it should apply to imported products. Regrettably, the proposed legislation has not yet been put forward by the European Commission. Furthermore, the regulation on imported deforestation, which is a step in the right direction, will not be enough to offset the negative consequences of the deal as it leaves out ecosystems (e.g. Cerrado, Pantanal, Gran Chaco) that are currently being destroyed at record levels by animal agriculture, including the production of soy for animal feed.

Against this backdrop, it is worrying that the European Commission would rush to conclude a bad deal for people, animals and the planet ahead of Javier Milei's incoming presidency. Trade agreements must be bulletproof as they are meant to last and are implemented by different governments over time. Instead of rushing to conclude an FTA based on an obsolete mandate, drafted more than twenty years ago, the EU should seek to negotiate a new FTA that would reflect the EU’s latest sustainability agenda and that would benefit citizens, consumers, producers and animals from both sides of the Atlantic. 

Any trade agreement with Mercosur countries should:  

  • Condition preferential access for all animal products - not only shelled eggs - on the respect of EU-equivalent or higher welfare standards: for instance, access to the beef quota should be reserved to meat derived from grass-fed animals, explicitly excluding feedlots, like in the recently adopted EU-New Zealand FTA
  • Include an ambitious chapter on Sustainable food systems, recognising animal sentience, and the importance of animal welfare for citizens and to achieve sustainable food production;
  • Create meaningful cooperation mechanisms on animal welfare, setting clear objectives and roadmaps;
  • Include a state of the art trade & sustainable development chapter, with the possibility of sanctions.