Germany has at last acknowledged that the EU-Mercosur deal is toxic, joining a growing number of Member States (Austria, Belgium, France, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg) that have expressed concerns – and also revealing the disarray of EU Trade policy.
On 19 August 2020, Angela Merkel met youth climate activists and assured them she would not ratify the free trade agreement between the EU and the Mercosur bloc (Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay) in its current state. Shortly after, Merkel’s spokesman told Politico that the German Government was watching the ongoing deforestation in the Amazon region with great concern, and that “in this context, serious questions arise as to whether implementation of the Mercosur-EU agreement in the intended spirit would be guaranteed at present.” On 1 September, German Agriculture Minister Julia Klöckner announced that the Mercosur-EU trade agreement would not be ratified in the short term, arguing that a large majority of EU agriculture ministers are “very, very sceptical” about the deal.
The sudden volte-face from Germany, thus far a strong supporter of what NGOs described as a “cars for cows” deal, underscores growing division both among EU Member States, and between these and the EU Commission. Despite the Commission’s exclusive competence to negotiate trade agreements, Member States are increasingly opposing trade deals because they may impact sensitive sectors such as agriculture and undermine our food security standards. Also, civil society organisations are shining a harsh light on the human rights and environmental failings of such deals, driving opposition. EU trade policy is broken and needs a push in the right direction.
Fundamentally, trade policy must be reoriented to place planet and people at the forefront. Civil society organisations, especially those who represent potentially affected people, must be heard during negotiation processes. Thorough impact assessments have to be carried out, and then heeded. Specific, binding commitments must be adopted to protect forests, climate, and human rights. Finally, damaging trade must be halted through effective monitoring, complaint, and enforcement mechanisms.