What’s the impact of future EU trade deals on animals?


What’s the impact of future EU trade deals on animals?

2 April 2024
A report published by the European Commission confirms that if implemented without animal welfare conditions, trade agreements with MERCOSUR countries and Thailand could significantly increase trade in low welfare animal products.

The report, aimed at evaluating the economic impact of ten free trade agreements (FTAs) that are not yet implemented, either because they are still in negotiation or because they are pending ratification. The report uncovers a notable trend: imports of low welfare products from key partner countries are projected to increase significantly, particularly when it comes to beef and poultry. These findings come amidst farmer protests in Europe, highlighting concerns over imports with lower standards, especially from Mercosur.

According to the report, the implementation of the 10 FTAs would increase the value of EU beef imports by more than 20%, corresponding to 81,000 - 91,000 extra tonnes. Most of the increase would derive from trade with Mercosur (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay), Australia and New Zealand. A similar scenario is described for poultry, whereby imports would increase by more than 209,000 tonnes, mostly coming from Mercosur and Thailand. Sheep meat imports would also increase by between 4,000 - 6,000 tonnes, mainly from Australia.

Most of the countries the report looks into are large agricultural producers where intensive farming is spreading, in part due to increasing export possibilities. This trend means that unconditional trade further fuels animal suffering, which is also linked to significant public health concerns like zoonoses and antimicrobial resistance. Intensive animal production also fuels deforestation, impacting the welfare of millions of wild animals at risk of losing their homes. To address these challenges, the EU should restrict the granting of further market liberalisation to products that comply with high animal welfare standards. This approach, seen in agreements like the EU-New Zealand FTA, can encourage trading partners to adopt higher animal welfare standards and contribute to deliver on the sustainability agenda.

The report also confirms the vulnerability of some agricultural sectors, placing importance on the volume limits granted in FTAs to animal based products in order to “prevent possible adverse economic and social impacts”. We welcome this conclusion, and we call on the European Commission to limit the volume granted in FTAs, especially for bovine and chicken meat, as a means to limit potential impact on animal welfare.

However, the difficulty of negotiating ambitious terms with trading partners also highlights the necessity for the EU to apply its animal welfare standards to imported products. It is essential to seize the unique opportunity offered by the revision of the EU’s animal welfare legislation to propose the inclusion of all animal products placed on the EU market, regardless of their origin. Meanwhile, incorporating animal welfare requirements in trade deals represents a constructive approach to promote welfare standards through EU trade policy and help third partners prepare for the introduction of such standards.

Eurogroup for Animals calls on the European Commission to look beyond the sole economic impacts of FTAs, and to also assess the impact they have on the EU Farm to Fork strategy.