Images of the Amazon burning are causing global alarm. At the European level, outcry is tied to the fate of the EU-Mercosur free trade agreement, whose negotiations were finalised late in June 2019. Little is made, however, of the EU consumer’s unknowing contribution to the fires, and of the need to ensure that companies’ supply chains do not fan the flames. As elaborated, the agreement will likely intensify the trade factors contributing to the Amazon fires.
If unopposed, the EU-Mercosur deal will allow the import of 99,000 tonnes of beef tariff free, despite the links between beef and deforestation. Fern’s briefing note on the cattle industry, found that cattle ranching is responsible for 80 per cent of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon.
Beyond condemnation of the Bolsonaro government, the spotlight is also being shone on Europe’s trade complicity in the Amazon fires. The EU is 97 per cent dependent on soya imports for its animal feed, much of which comes from Brazil; in 2018, 41.1 per cent of EU beef imports came from Brazil. For Brazil, exports to Europe are a billion Euro business.
In an open letter sent on 29 August, 26 NGOs, including Fern, denounced how EU Member States are helping to fuel the current crisis through their extensive imports of soy and beef. They also urged European leaders to end Europe’s shared responsibility for the fires raging in the Amazon by passing tough new laws guaranteeing that products sold in the EU are free from deforestation and human rights abuses.
The call for such due diligence regulation was backed in an op-ed by 46 members of the French parliament from various political groups, which states that “Europe has the power to request companies to clean up their supply chains, as it already did with illegal fishing and logging”.
The Mercosur deal can still be opposed by Member States or the European Parliament. France, Ireland and Luxembourg have openly threatened to block the deal, although Spain and the Netherlands have re-affirmed their support. Fern calls for re-opening the negotiations in order to include strong safeguards to protect forests and ensure respect for indigenous and traditional communities’ rights.
Beyond this, however, enforceable rules must require companies to carry out due diligence concerning the possible social and environmental consequences of their supply chains – also ensuring a level playing field for those companies already making the effort to do so.
Notably, European Commission President-elect Ursula Von Der Leyen has committed to prioritise a Green New Deal in the first 100 days of her mandate. On July 23, the Commission opened the door to regulating the EU’s imports of agricultural commodities to ensure they do not drive deforestation and associated human rights abuses. In a press conference, Franz Timmermans, Vice-President of the Commission, says that he “could well imagine that tackling deforestation would feature in the upcoming Green New Deal”.