Thursday

2nd Jul 2020

Commission defends Mercosur trade deal

  • Between 1990 and 2016, the equivalent of 800 football fields of forest has been lost every hour (Photo: crustmania)

The Mercosur-EU trade deal, if approved, would give the EU more influence in preventing deforestation in Brazil, European Commission vice-president Jyrki Katainen said Tuesday (23 July).

He defended the trade agreement which the commission negotiated with Mercosur, which consists of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay.

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  • Deforestation in Brazil in 2013. According to new satellite photos, deforestation has picked up in the first half of July compared to a year previous (Photo: CIFOR)

"I'm very well aware there are many people saying we should not have Mercosur trade agreement with the EU because of deforestation impact. We all know that there has been serious issues in Mercosur countries, especially in Brazil, when it comes to rainforest degradation," said Katainen.

He spoke as he and vice-president for sustainable development Frans Timmermans presented a new strategy paper on protecting the world's forests.

The paper quoted World Bank figures that said a forest area of 1.3m square kilometres has been lost between 1990 and 2016, "the equivalent of 800 football fields of forest lost every hour".

"All this deforestation has happened without [the Mercosur] trade agreement," said Katainen, who noted that the trade deal would come with conditions for both sides.

"It has been mentioned explicitly that increasing trade cannot lead to increasing deforestation."

The trade deal also includes commitments to implement the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

"It gives a stronger hand to us to have a political dialogue with Brazil," said Katainen.

Since 1 January, Brazil has a new, far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro.

Bolsonaro has made no secret that agriculture has a higher priority to him than forest protection.

Earlier this month, new figures showed that more than 1,000 square kilometres of rainforest had been cleared in just 15 days in July, which was 68 percent more than in the entire month of July 2018.

Bolsonaro dismissed the figures, claimed Brazil was protecting the rainforest, and that other countries had no right to lecture Brazil.

"We understand the importance of the Amazon for the world – but the Amazon is ours. There will not be any more of that sort of policy that we saw in the past that was terrible for everyone," he said, according to the Guardian.

"No country in the world has the moral right to talk about the Amazon. You destroyed your own ecosystems," he said.

MEPs worried for European farmers

Katainen was not the only European Commission member who had to defend the deal, which was reached last month after almost 20 years of negotiations.

Members of the European Parliament agriculture committee from across the political spectrum were very sceptical about the EU-Mercosur trade deal.

On Tuesday, they bombarded agriculture commissioner Phil Hogan with questions and comments.

"It is worse than we thought," said German Green MEP Martin Hausling.

"Mercosur is a threat, not an opportunity," said far-right Czech MEP Ivan David.

A reassurance by Hogan that the commission would set aside €1bn in case the deal led to market distortions, backfired.

Many MEPs saw it as proof that the Mercosur deal was not beneficial to European farmers.

French centre-left MEP Eric Andrieu said Hogan was "pyromaniac and fireman" at the same time.

German centre-right MEP Peter Jahr expressed his doubts that agriculture products from the Mercosur countries could live up to European food protection standards.

But Hogan defended the deal, saying concessions are needed for any trade agreement.

He was asked by Dutch centre-right MEP Annie Schreijer-Pierik why the EU accepted an increase of imported poultry from 90,000 tonnes to 180,000 tonnes.

Hogan said the volume was "of modest share" in comparison to the EU's 14m tonnes of domestic consumption.

"Nobody would like to give concessions," he noted, but said EU consumption of poultry was increasing, as a substitute for beef consumption.

The final agreement was "balanced, comprehensive and ambitious", said the Irish commissioner.

"I accept fully that it is challenging for certain agriculture sectors. However, we have also secured important opportunities for some sectors in agriculture: wine, spirits, olive oil, dairy, processed food, to name but a few, had a positive outcome."

The deal will need to be approved by the European Parliament and member states, and possibly by national parliaments.

CETA

A similar free trade agreement with Canada, CETA, led to major debates in some of the EU's member states, with a Belgian regional parliament almost scuppering the whole deal.

On Tuesday, France's National Assembly approved CETA with 266 votes in favour and 213 against it.

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