Animal welfare is not well defended in trade agreements

The EU is the only trading block that has started to include provisions on animal welfare in its trade agreements with third countries. Yet, EU trade agreements do not condition the granting of trade preferences to the respect of animal welfare standards applied in the EU.

Since 2002 and the EU-Chile Association Agreement, most trade agreements concluded by the EU contain provisions on animal welfare cooperation. However, these provisions are usually weak, as they only call for parties to cooperate and exchange views on the topic. In general, they focus on farmed animals, and on slaughter criteria, as countries need to match EU standards in that field to export meat to the EU. 

EU Trade agreements also contain other provisions linked to animals in their “Trade and Sustainable Development” chapters, which generally includes language on wildlife trafficking and sustainable fisheries and aquaculture. Issues with these provisions are similar to those encountered with provisions on animal welfare cooperation: their language is weak and aspirational, and they lack effective enforcement mechanisms. 



93% of EU citizens consider that imported products should respect all animal welfare standards applied in the EU and 87% that the EU should do more to promote animal welfare at the global level. Conditioning better access to the EU market to the respect of all relevant animal welfare standards applied in the EU would thus respond to concerns expressed by most EU citizens.

On the latest Eurobarometer on trade, ensuring the EU’s environmental and health standards are respected in trade policy ranked second as a priority, just after creating jobs (up from fifth rank in 2010), proving the growing concerns of EU citizens.


The EU is an active player on the trade scene. It has already negotiated or - or currently negotiaties - with many partners like Mercosur countries, Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, Chile and the UK. In all these agreements, the EU intends to have provisions on animal welfare. The EU usually favours a cooperative approach. 

The language of these provisions has become more elaborate. The modernised EU-Mexico Global Agreement, concluded in 2018, still marked a turning point in EU trade policy: it is the first EU trade agreement including a standalone chapter on animal welfare and antimicrobial resistance, recognising the importance of the topic for both partners. The chapter is also the first to include a recognition of animals as sentient beings, an explicit objective to enhance the protection and welfare of animals and a commitment to implement OIE standards. The EU-UK Trade and Cooperation agreement, ratified in 2021, was also the first to state the link between improved animal welfare practices and sustainable food systems. Yet, overall these chapters, including the one in the EU-Mexico agreement, remain weak as they depend on political willingness and resources allocated.

The draft EU-Mercosur agreement also represents a breakthrough - in terms of precedent - for animals, as it contains the first trade preference linked to animal welfare conditions. Indeed, it links the liberalisation in the trade of shell eggs to the respect of EU-equivalent standards. However impressive this precedent could be, it still does not make this trade agreement, as a whole, a good deal for animals. Because of its potential impact on animals, the environment, people, and climate, several Member States, as well as the European Parliament, have already stated they would not ratify the deal as it stands. The draft EU-New Zealand FTA also includes an animal welfare condition as it restricts the access to the preferential tariff-rate quota on beef to meat derived from pasture-fed animals. 

There is always a strong lobby activity to push trade deals through, especially with the war ongoing in Ukraine, but, as we have seen with Canada and now with Mercosur, there is  also an increasing push in the other direction to ensure trade agreements do not negatively impact the planet, people and animals. This is even more the case after the launch of the EU Green Deal and in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.