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 very 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. 

Alongside the lack of ambition in the texts, another issue is the implementation of these provisions. As the provisions are aspirational, their implementation relies on political willingness and on the allocation of proper resources. This has not been the case in recent years and that has meant a clear lack of progress for animals. 

EU Trade agreements contain other provisions linked to animals in their “Trade and Sustainable Development” chapters, which generally includes language on wildlife trafficking. 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. 

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WHAT DOES THE PUBLIC THINK?

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.

POLICY - CURRENT STATE OF PLAY

The EU is an active player on the trade scene. It already negotiates 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 and includes in its trade agreement provisions allowing for Parties to exchange views and cooperate on animal welfare. 

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. Yet, overall these chapters, including the one in the EU-Mexico agreement, remain weak as they depend on political willingness and resources allocated.

The EU-Mercosur agreement could also represent a breakthrough - in terms of precedent - for animals, as it could contain the first trade preference linked to animal welfare conditions. Indeed, it is deemed to link 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. 

There is always a strong lobby activity to push trade deals through but, as we have seen with Canadaand 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.