Photo credits: ©David Mercado/Reuters
While it seemed impossible back in July, now the opposition to the EU-Mercosur deal is building up among Member States due to the dramatic fires caused by deforestation and the lack of action of Brazilian President Bolsonaro. Could this be an opportunity for EU Member States to realise they need to include more than just cooperation mechanisms on issues like animal welfare, wildlife trafficking, deforestation and climate change in their trade agreements?
Last July, the EU and Mercosur concluded a political agreement on a future trade deal. This means only a narrow scope of topics are still under discussion, for instance details on market access. The next steps will be for the EU and Mercosur to fully conclude negotiations (foreseen in January 2020) and then for EU Member States to approve the deal. If it gets the green light from Member States, it will have to be approved by the European Parliament to be provisionally implemented, and by the Member States’ parliaments to fully enter into force. Such procedure offers several opportunities to put pressure on the European decision-makers.
At the moment the deal is bad for animals as it does not condition the opening of the EU’s market to the respect of animal welfare standards equivalent to those applied in the EU. In addition, the soft provisions on animal welfare cooperation have been watered down and do not even include the objective to align Mercosur regulations with the EU’s in this field.
Back in July, only Ireland, Belgium, Poland and France voiced some doubts in a letter sent to the European Commission in the run up to the conclusion of the negotiations. After the announcement of the conclusion during the G20, France and Ireland asked to see the full text before adopting any final position, notably due to the impact the agreement could have on their national beef industries. Opposition from some more Member States seemed impossible back then, because of the geopolitics around the negotiations. By signing a trade deal with Mercosur the EU would be the first player to gain better access to the huge markets of Brazil and Argentina, that are currently well protected by high tariffs. This way the EU would have the opportunity to demonstrate the strength of the union’s cooperative approach on trade, compared to the US’.
In the second half of July, as the French press continued to discuss the potential consequences of a deal with Mercosur, France also went through harsh parliamentary debates on CETA, the agreement with Canada. This context increased the spotlight on issues related to the impact of trade agreements on the animals, the environment and the climate. The French Parliament ended up ratifying the text but with a narrower margin, as the majority party (Macron’s LREM) was divided on the topic. The signal to President Macron was clear: the French are in doubt when it comes to trade. They are less and less certain that what these agreements bring outweigh their potential cost for the environment. More influential voices, such as former Environment Minister Nicolas Hulot, consider the EU’s trade strategy is at odds with its objectives on climate change and biodiversity.
Later in August, an increasing amount of wrong signals came from Brazil: President Bolsonaro fired the head of Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research after the Institute revealed deforestation had spiked according to their satellites (+88% in June, compared to June last year). He then announced his plan to redirect foreign aid aimed at combating deforestation to now compensate cattle and soybean farmers. This lead Germany and Norway to freeze their donations to the fund in question. Eventually, Brazilian deforestation got even more visibility because of the dramatic fires taking all over the news.
Before the G7 meeting in Biarritz, President Macron‘s tweet called for the issue to be urgently discussed at the Summit.
Our house is burning. Literally. The Amazon rain forest – the lungs which produces 20% of our planet’s oxygen – is on fire. It is an international crisis. Members of the G7 Summit, let’s discuss this emergency first order in two days! #ActForTheAmazon pic.twitter.com/dogOJj9big
— Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) August 22, 2019
Furthermore Bolsonaro’s (re)actions – or lack thereof – regarding the Amazon’s emergency led to France announcing they would oppose the EU-Mercosur deal as it stands – with Macron even saying publicly Bolsonaro had lied to him at the G20 meeting – where EU leaders agreed on finalising the EU-Mercosur deal, in the hope of keeping Brazil on the right side of the climate fight.
Since then, other countries have followed and showed their doubts on a Mercosur deal:
- Ireland’s Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Varadkar threatened to vote against the deal,
- Luxembourg’s Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister called for suspending the ratification process,
- Slovakia’s Agriculture Minister announced she would oppose the deal if it came up on the table in AGRIFISH Council because “We should stop the imports of agricultural products and food that are not produced in accordance with the European environmental standards and animal welfare”,
- Austria’s majority of national parties (but a very minor one) are “against” the deal,
- In Germany, the press is calling for sanctions and the agriculture minister also threatened Brazil. However, the full government has not adopted such views and has criticised the threats made by other EU countries, underlining the presence of environmental provisions in the agreement (but forgetting how weak they are). The UK joined Germany on this.
The Finnish Presidency also called for a suspension of the ratification process of the agreement, and indicated the EU and Finland were exploring the possibility of a ban on Brazilian beef imports.
In his post G7 interview, Macron confirmed his opinion and also recognised that the EU, by importing soy from Brazil to feed its own farm animals, shared blame for agricultural pressure on the rainforest. He added that the EU’s dependence on imported proteins for animal feed was “a very bad choice” and that the EU should aim at developing alternate sources of protein.
Sadly – as it is due mostly to the terrible fires in the Amazon which are affecting thousands of wild animals at least – it seems now that a window is open to protest this deal.
Eurogroup for Animals has been clear: the EU-Mercosur agreement is not a good deal for animals. At a time when climate change and antimicrobial resistance threaten our existence, favouring trade in cheap meat and dairies will only take us further from finding a sustainable model for centuries to come. Systems that have the potential for higher animal welfare standards also have less environmental impact and require a lesser use of antibiotics. Instead of putting our standards under pressure with another trade deal allowing for lower welfare imports, the EU could have used this opportunity to ensure progress is achieved on animal welfare in Mercosur countries, and therefore on sustainability.
Eurogroup for Animals and its members are deeply shocked by the sheer number of animals affected by the amazon fires. We do hope that the momentum this drama creates offers a true window for the EU to reconsider how it should treat non-trade issues, such as animal welfare or climate change, in its trade agreements. Trade cannot solve all the crisis in the world, but it should never aggravate one. And even better, it should be better used as a lever to promote a more sustainable world. The time of empty promises is gone.
Trade and Animal Welfare Project Leader
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