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EU-Latin America summit will be an environmental car crash

Photo: The Left / flickr / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

EU Observer | 13 July 2023

EU-Latin America summit will be an environmental car crash


Ahead of next week’s (17-18 July) EU summit with Latin American and Caribbean leaders, the European Commission has launched its new strategy to strengthen relations with Latin America. Fast-tracking free trade deals with the region to secure access to Latin America’s raw materials for economic competitiveness is part of the strategic package.

Such trade deals neglect planetary limits and exacerbate human and environmental impacts.

The toxic EU-Mercosur trade deal

The EU-Mercosur (Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay) free trade deal will empower destructive agribusinesses to continue gutting environmental and indigenous people’s rights. The deal will fuel climate disaster by boosting the exports of agricultural products from South America to the EU, such as beef, soy and ethanol. These are key drivers of land grabbing and deforestation in important South American ecosystems like the Amazon, 20 percent of which have already suffered irreversible losses.

Moreover, amidst the EU’s efforts to curtail pesticide use within its own agricultural lands, the EU-Mercosur deal emerges as an endorsement of chemical colonialism.

The deal will massively increase the export of pesticides and other agricultural chemicals from the EU to South America. These include chemicals that have been banned within the EU due to their detrimental impacts on both nature and human health.

European chemical giants like Bayer and BASF will be the main beneficiaries of the deal, and have been financing think tanks in the EU and Brazil to promote the deal.

The EU’s car industry is also pushing for the deal in order to gain market access for its polluting combustion vehicles in the ’Mercosur region’. This poses serious risks to local jobs, and could lead to the dislocation of regional value chains in the region.

Attempting to win over critical EU governments of the EU-Mercosur deal, the European Commission is working on an additional environmental joint instrument, but this risks being a mere greenwashing exercise and will not address the structural problems associated with this deal.

’Green colonialism’ in Chile

In the free trade deal the EU wants to seal with Chile, we witness the same unjust and unsustainable trade model.

This deal aims to secure and gain economic control over Chile’s massive lithium stocks. Chile’s economy is based on water-intensive extractivist industries, and is already suffering from a severe water-crisis.

Particularly Chile’s marginalised communities in so-called " sacrifice zones" and indigenous communities suffer extreme exposure to toxic substances and environmental degradation, water scarcity and air pollution.

The mining and raw material sector itself is known for its dreadful track record in human rights abuses, particularly the rights of indigenous communities and drivers of social conflicts. The EU-Chile trade deal will only exacerbate this situation, putting further pressure on communities and their environment.

Moreover, in spite of the industry’s scandalous human rights record, the EU’s raw materials industry lobbied the European Commission with an annual lobbying expenditure exceeding €21m.

In doing so, they managed to push their demand to include voluntary industry certification, instead of legally binding due diligence responsibilities, in the commission’s proposal in the critical raw materials act. This worryingly leaves the industry to regulate itself.

To make matters worse, the EU-Chile trade deal includes a revamped Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) system. This gives investors privileged rights to launch multi-million euro lawsuits against governments for implementing measures that are in the public interest, like protecting the environment or guaranteeing rights of communities to have access to water.

The Commission claims it is including civil society participation as well as efforts to promote democracy in its new strategy for Latin America. Yet, the truth is that indigenous communities and civil society have never been consulted about these trade deals, while big business has a privileged seat at the negotiating table. Moreover, the European Commission is making anti-democratic moves by trying to split trade deals and bypass EU governments to accelerate their approval.

Behind the EU’s rhetoric of sustainable trade lies a system that perpetuates historical inequalities and exacerbates the socio-environmental crisis we face today.

Born out of a legacy of colonialism and slavery, trade systems have failed to transcend the continued exploitation and extractivism of both humanity and the natural world. The interests of multinational corporations and global elites are prioritised, while environmental protection and the majority of people are left behind.

We need a just energy transition that does not perpetuate neo-colonial power structures, where the Global South is exploited for its natural resources to cater for Europe’s technological progress and green transition. So far trade policy measures do not ensure the prevention of environmental and social conflicts and are primarily based on European industrial growth and fuel over-consumption.

Next week’s EU-CELAC summit in Brussels will be a key moment for the EU to advance its free trade deals with Latin America.

Civil society organisations, indigenous and social movements across Latin America are already mobilising to raise their voices during the summit against these harmful trade deals. They are challenging the power imbalance and demanding a fundamental transformation of our economies.

A shift away from the destructive pursuit of endless economic expansion towards economies that prioritise the well-being of communities, the environment and climate justice.


Audrey Changoe is trade and investment policy expert at the Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe, where Anuna De Weveris trade & investment policy campaigner.

 source: EU Observer