Why trade agreements should not stop progress for animals
The current EU animal welfare legislation is obsolete and urgently needs to be reviewed, to take into account the latest scientific findings. As shown by the Commission’s own fitness check and the recent EFSA opinions, the current legislation is not fit for purpose. This revision is also a question of democracy: through different European Citizens Initiatives, Eurobarometer and petitions, EU citizens have vastly demonstrated their support for higher animal welfare.
The European Commission committed to publish the proposals by autumn of this year, although we remain on tenterhooks for this to see the light. It is high time that EU consumption stops fuelling cruel practices anywhere in the world. Yet, for this objective to be achieved, the new legislation will have to apply to all products placed on the EU market, including imported ones. This is something that the European Parliament, as well as many Member States, have already supported.
Evidently, this is likely to create discussions between the EU and its main trading partners, at a time when the President of the European Commission has committed to conclude important trade negotiations by the end of the year, notably with Mercosur countries. Should that stop the European Commission? Hopefully, the EU will not let its trade agenda freeze the path toward sustainable food systems, but if there were temptations to do so, it is important to remember key facts at play.
First, the EU-Mercosur negotiations are unlikely to make any significant progress during the remaining political term of this Commission. The EU-Mercosur deal has been greatly criticised over the negative consequences it could have not only for animals, but also for the planet and human rights. Already in October 2021, the European Parliament committed not to vote for it “as it stands”. The European Commission has thus put forward an “additional instrument” to be attached to the agreement, but the counteroffer recently made by Mercosur countries cast a significant shadow on the future of the talks.
South American countries are asking, among others, to create a mechanism that would allow them to be compensated, or to re-discuss trade concessions, if they feel that these concessions have been annulled or suspended by a measure adopted at the EU level. This would mean that even if the EU were to adopt a new legislation completely justified under the rules of the World Trade Organisation, the EU would still have to compensate Mercosur countries by granting further trade preferences on relevant products. This puts a price tag on every legitimate progress the EU wants to make: for animals, for the planet, for the people. This is unacceptable.
It is often argued that having more animal welfare-related import requirements would translate into a negative impact for small farmers in third countries. Yet, our recent report says just the opposite: most of the animal products imported into the EU originate from developed or middle-income countries. Lower-income countries are already prevented from exporting to the EU due to the sanitary and phytosanitary rules that need to be respected. In addition, exporters in these countries are mostly big multinational companies, sometimes already committed to achieve progress in the field of animal welfare. The EU might simply accelerate the change, rather than force it.
The European Union has been a pioneer in the field of animal welfare. The European Commission's promise for a Green Deal cannot be complete without better animal welfare legislation. President von der Leyen must stick to her promise to publish the proposals before the end of this term.
It is now time to deliver.