Brussels’ pact with Mercosur – a group made up of South American nations Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay – remains illusive 20 years after talks began. The trade pact struck in 2019 promised to be the EU’s largest deal, with the removal of import tariffs on its products that had previously cost billions. But two years after a preliminary agreement was reached, it is unclear whether it will ever be implemented due to Europe’s concerns over Amazon deforestation and scepticism about Brazil’s commitment to tackling climate change under its President Jair Bolsonaro. The deal has received criticism from a number of places, but prominently from environmental campaigners.
Last month, Jurgen Knirsch from Greenpeace told EU Observer: “The EU-Mercosur deal is an environmental disaster waiting to happen.
“National governments must now reject this deal, or else they make themselves complicit in accelerating the destruction of the Amazon and other vital ecosystems.”
In the European Parliament meanwhile, MEPs are split.
Some say the trade deal is not compatible with the Green Deal, while others warn that geopolitical competitors will engage with South American countries if the EU does not.
German MEP Sven Simon of the European People’s Party said: “What would be the environmental and social consequence of withdrawing from the agreement and increasing the US and Chinese trade in the area – this is the key question.”
President of the European Greens, Philippe Lamberts, told his colleagues in January that the Mercosur deal would be a “disaster” for farmers in Europe and the environment.
Before an agreement was reached, farmers took to the streets in 2018 to rage at the proposal.
Pictures even emerged of EU flags being burned.
An organisation representing ethanol companies in Europe, ePure, claimed the EU had thrown the industry and farmers “under the bus”, lambasting the bloc for hypocrisy when a preliminary agreement was reached.
It said: “The deal makes concessions to Mercosur countries on ethanol that essentially sacrifice the EU agriculture sector – and domestic production of a renewable energy source – in exchange for gains elsewhere.
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“In agreeing to open its markets to Brazilian ethanol, the EU is contradicting its own efforts to increase domestic renewable energy sources in transport, killing incentives to invest in advanced ethanol, and making life even tougher for Europe’s already struggling farmers.
“Last-minute changes to the EU-Mercosur agreement, offering even more access to EU markets for Brazilian sugarcane ethanol, have made a bad deal even worse.
“The agreement essentially trades away Europe’s ethanol industry unless the EU can act quickly and grow the European ethanol market to accommodate a flood of imports.”
French President Emmanuel Macron is one of the more high profile figures to express concerns over the deal.
The French government said in a statement in September last year: “The draft agreement has no provision to impose discipline on the practices of the Mercosur countries in the fight against deforestation.
“This is the major shortcoming in this agreement and this is the main reason why, as it stands, France opposes the draft agreement.”
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German Chancellor Angela Merkel, meanwhile, also expressed “significant doubts” over the deal, given the extent of deforestation, her spokesman said.
Parliaments in Austria, the Netherlands and the Belgian region of Wallonia have also indicated their opposition to the deal in its current form.
Just two weeks ago Irish European Affairs Minister Thomas Byrne explained why his country’s farmers are sceptical.
He said: “Our producers are always concerned when we talk about imports of meat products in particular, but I always see trade agreements as an opportunity for our producers.
“The products that Ireland exports, especially in terms of meat, are ‘premium’ products, really high quality, they are not ordinary meat sold very cheaply.”