Politico | 7 July 2023
EU, Latin America at odds on Ukraine and Mercosur trade ahead of big summit
BY CAMILLE GIJS AND JACOPO BARIGAZZI
European and Latin American countries are miles apart on Ukraine and a Mercosur trade deal — just 10 days ahead of a major summit meeting in Brussels meant to showcase their deepening relations.
A draft joint declaration, seen by POLITICO, shows that the two blocs don’t see eye to eye on whether to condemn Russia’s war in Ukraine, ahead of the July 17-18 gathering that will bring together leaders from the 27-nation EU and the 33 countries of the Community of the Latin American & the Caribbean States (CELAC).
A counterproposal from CELAC countries, sent to diplomats earlier this week, removed all reference to the war in Ukraine. In addition, the CELAC countries have demanded reparations over colonial occupation, as reported by Euractiv and confirmed by a European diplomat who had seen the text.
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, which manifestly violates the independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of Ukraine and threatens the rules-based international order,” reads the European version of the draft declaration.
The competing proposals on Ukraine crystallize stark differences that have played out in recent months, as the EU has sided with the United States in backing Kyiv with tanks, air defenses, artillery and ammunition. At the same time, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of regional heavyweight Brazil has hewed to his nation’s nonaligned tradition and accused Washington — and not Moscow — of aggression.
The CELAC suggestion raised eyebrows in Brussels, as EU ambassadors sought on Friday to hammer out ways to bridge gaps on the wording of the 16-page text. Agreeing on a joint EU position is already a tricky exercise, while finding a shared form of words with such a heterogeneous counterpart is even harder.
The European version of text, which carried Friday’s date, only refers with a placeholder to talks on a trade deal between the EU and the Mercosur bloc — which groups Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay — signifying a lack of any proposed wording.
Technical talks were wrapped up in 2019 but an EU call for extra environmental safeguards has held up a deal that could deliver a welcome boost to the EU economy and reduce its dependence on China.
That in part reflects ambivalence within the EU toward the Mercosur deal: France and Austria are among countries that have expressed concerns over deforestation in the Amazon basin and a possible surge in farm imports from the region.
Officials in Brussels had hoped to tout significant progress on the Mercosur deal at the July summit, with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen calling to get it done as soon as possible.
But Mercosur countries have thrown cold water over this prospect: Brussels is waiting for a counteroffer from Mercosur on an extra sustainability protocol that expresses Europe’s deforestation concerns.
Lula, who has just taken over Mercosur’s rotating leadership, this week called these extra demands “unacceptable” and called for bloc to present “a quick and forceful response.”
The working text also eliminates references to the proposed signature of a deal that governs relations between the EU and 79 countries of the Organization of African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (OACPS).
The so-called Post-Cotonou agreement has been held up by Hungary since 2020, and more recently Poland, which has been accused of holding it hostage to seek more guarantees in an internal EU dispute over Ukrainian grain.
A passage welcoming, or looking forward to, the signing of the Post-Cotonou agreement is one of many that are struck through in the document, indicating that diplomats still have their work cut out to agree on that and many other paragraphs of the text.