Last week, Brazil National Space Research Institute (INPE) reported the highest rate of deforestation in the Amazon since 2008. Between August 2019 and July 2020, 11,087 square kilometers were deforested in the Amazon under the Bolsonaro government. The latest figures come on top of rising deforestation rates in previous years. In the midst of this rising destruction, the EU Commission is seeking to conclude the negotiations of the EU-Mercosur free trade agreement (FTA). If allowed to go into effect, this agreement will exacerbate damage to the Amazon, the Cerrado and the Gran Chaco and accelerate the climate crisis. It would not only facilitate significantly increased EU beef imports from Brazil and the other countries in the region, but also further promote an extractive model of agriculture that relies on heavy pesticide use; poorly regulated biotechnology and pressure on small and subsistence farmers. It would signal a major defeat for the Paris Agreement and the EU’s stated goals for a European Green Deal politically and symbolically, as well as in actual emissions increases. It would also send the wrong signal to indigenous and rural communities in Brazil and other Mercosur countries that the EU has failed to uphold its international obligations to protect human rights.
Working with the Heinrich Boell Foundation, Miseroer, the Federation of Organizations for Social and Educational Assistance (FASE, Brazil) and other allies in the Mercosur and Europe, IATP has produced a set of factsheets on the potential impacts of this agreement. The major findings include:
EU-Mercosur agreement would accelerate tipping points on climate and land use change
Provisions in the EU-Mercosur FTA conflict with ambitious climate action. If enacted, the agreement would result in an increase in EU imports of primary agricultural commodities from a region critical for maintaining global biodiversity and regulating climate. Based on available information, if ratified, the EU-Mercosur agreement would:
Incentivize socially and environmentally destructive land use change, edging the Amazon closer towards its “tipping point” and facilitating further destruction to sensitive and hugely important ecosystems in the Gran Chaco and the Cerrado;
Increase greenhouse gas emissions, through expanded trade of beef and other agricultural commodities, undermining climate goals in both regions;
Fail to ensure supply chain traceability and sustainability standards, effectively empowering agribusinesses in both regions to expand business as usual.
EU-Mercosur would increase pesticide use and undermine healthy food production standards
At the same time that the European Union is promising next-generation Farm to Fork policies and stricter pesticide regulations domestically, its support of the EU-Mercosur agreement continues with policies that exploit the more permissive environmental and health policies of its trading partners. This double standard could further expose vulnerable populations and the environment to toxic chemicals and undermine the movement toward more sustainable agriculture in both the EU and the Mercosur countries. Based on available information, if ratified, the EU-Mercosur agreement would:
Increase exports of dangerous pesticides from the EU to Mercosur countries and cultivation of pesticide-dependent crops, as the agreement would eliminate 90% of existing tariffs on chemicals, currently as high as 18%, as well as reduce tariffs for products grown with dangerous pesticides;
Risk an increase in pesticide-linked human rights abuses, already a major concern in Mercosur countries struggling with the impacts of toxic chemicals on children and ecosystems;
Pressure regulators to speed up approvals of genetically modified, pesticide-dependent crops and expand their cultivation;
Risk economic harm to the organic and agroecological farming sector in Mercosur countries, while undermining next-generation food, environmental and public health policy in both the EU and Mercosur.
EU-Mercosur agreement risks weaker food safety standards on both sides of the Atlantic
The EU-Mercosur FTA is designed to increase the flow of goods among countries. In addition to reducing tariffs and quotas on meat and other goods, it includes measures to streamline food safety approvals in ways that could result in lower standards. Based on the published texts of the Agreement in Principle, if implemented, the FTA would:
Limit precaution-based regulating in both the EU and Mercosur, as reference to the precautionary principle is completely omitted from the text on food and plant safety;
Limit food safety inspections through new processes establishing rapid pre-approval of meat exports, reductions in the frequency and effectiveness of food safety checks by the importing country; and limits on government authority to preventatively block imports when food safety violations are suspected;
Increase the risk of consumers purchasing contaminated foods and do nothing to prevent the re-export of rejected products, a problem that is especially grave considering inadequate food safety inspection budgets in the EU and Mercosur.
EU-Mercosur agreement would undermine public procurement, limiting the future of local development
While several key elements of the procurement chapter of the EU-Mercosur agreement have either not been negotiated or have not yet been made public, the released elements have the potential to undermine fair and sustainable development programs throughout the Mercosur countries. Based on available information, if ratified, the EU-Mercosur agreement would:
Permanently open important public procurement programs in the Mercosur to bids by large EU firms, which could undermine successful initiatives in Brazil and Argentina that have been used to reduce hunger and support family farmers and local economies;
Make requirements that public procurement projects benefit local hiring and development illegal under the agreement;
Pave the way for further opening, both through possible requirements to bind state and local governments and through increased pressure to join the WTO based Government Procurement Agreement.
IATP’s Shefali Sharma presented the four factsheets during an online briefing at 10 a.m. CT on December 7, with comments from Anna Cavazzini (MEP, The Greens/EFA Group in the European Parliament, Brussels), Maureen Santos (Policy Officer, Federation of Organizations for Social and Educational Assistance, Rio de Janeiro) and Yann Laurans, (Biodiversity and Ecosystems Programme Director at the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations, Paris).