In early June 2020, a Dutch parliamentary resolution called on their government to reject the looming EU-Mercosur Agreement, adding yet more power to the rising tide of political opinion against the proposed deal from both sides of the Atlantic. Broadly, challenges to the deal come from three valid, connected angles.
1. EU trade policy is broken, as the Mercosur deal illustrates.
EU trade policy fails to protect human life and the environment. The recent non-paper penned by French and Dutch governments calls for stronger protections in EU trading relationships, including through concrete incentive and sanction mechanisms connected to these standards, echoing what some in civil society have been saying for years. Read Fern’s analysis of the non-paper.
The Agriculture Committee’s opinion agrees, calling for the reopening of the EU-Mercosur agreement because of its lack of “binding and enforceable environmental and social provisions”, in common with all EU trade agreements.
2. Skyrocketing human rights abuse and deforestation in the Amazon make the deal unconscionable now.
Images of the Amazon ablaze last year prompted European leaders, including French President Macron and Ireland’s Taoiseach Varadkar, to threaten to block the trade deal. Although Germany generally supports the trade deal, Germany’s Ambassador to Brazil stated in March that it could not enter force until deforestation rates in Brazil reduced to 2017 levels.
The situation is worse now. President Bolsonaro’s regime is wreaking devastation amongst Brazil’s most vulnerable and marginalised communities, and deforestation rates have skyrocketed. A guest blog by Nicole Gérard and Lucas Santos Tolentino chronicles some recent developments.
A statement issued in May on the EU-Mercosur deal by the Climate Observatory, a network of Brazilian climate organisations, urges revision of the premises of the agreement, and for ratification only after the government takes concrete measures to improve social and environmental policies in Brazil.
Addressing the European Parliament’s International Trade Committee, Trade Commissioner Hogan confirmed that the Commission must respond to these concerns, and is looking to pursue a ‘pre-ratification conditionality’ approach to get the trade deal over the finish line.
Pre-ratification conditionalities could theoretically be useful – but they must be meaningful and enforced. Even then they will be insufficient in the case of the EU-Mercosur agreement if the deal itself is not reformed.
3. This trade deal will harm European farmers, hurt people and encourage deforestation.
The Dutch Parliament’s resolution notes that the deal will likely increase deforestation and unfair competition for European farmers. Farmers groups, industry lobbyists and NGOs alike have denounced the deal’s trade terms for key agricultural products including beef, ethanol and sugar. Some EU Member States cite concerns about their own farming sector.
It is extremely difficult to see how the EU could meet its climate change and Green Deal commitments by pursuing a deal predicated on increased agricultural production in richly forested countries. The EU’s renewed political interest in tackling its culpability in deforestation is demonstrated by the EU Communication on action to protect and restore forests, and the Farm to Fork strategy, 20 May 2020. Fern explains the links between these initiatives and the situation in Brazil here.
EU trade deals must support this positive work; the EU-Mercosur deal risks undermining it.