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French MEPs concerned over EU-Mercosur deal amid regional push

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Euractiv | 1 February 2023

French MEPs concerned over EU-Mercosur deal amid regional push

by Paul Messad

Over 20 years in the making, the EU-Mercosur deal is edging closer to implementation, with the region’s leaders, including Brazil’s freshly elected President Lula, pushing for swift ratification. However, French EU lawmakers reiterated concerns over environmental standards.

After years of relative absence, relations with Latin America and the Caribbean are returning to the EU agenda, at a time when the EU fears losing influence in the region.

Partly caused by the fallout of Russia’s aggression on Ukraine, Latin American and EU leaders have recently called for closer and better ties between their regions, discussions that are expected to pick up during the Spanish presidency of the EU Council in the second half of 2023.

EU officials over the past months have voiced hopes that closer ties would reinvigorate trade ties and give new impetus to conclude trade deals under Spanish leadership.

However, large parts of the European Parliament remain unconvinced on the matter, especially when it comes to Mercosur.

Discussions on introducing minimum environmental standards into the EU-Mercosur free trade deal between the European Union and four Mercosur states of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, have been ongoing since an agreement was reached in principle in 2019. The agreement followed 20 years of negotiations, which began in 1999.

“We really need commitments that will change things”, French Renew MEP and vice-chair of the International Trade Committee (INTA), Marie-Pierre Vedrenne, told a hearing with EU Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovkis last week.

Vedrenne’s call came amid the EU executive’s recent push to have legislation complement the free trade deal that would allow for non-binding environmental requirements to apply to the agreement.

This “simple additional declaration [to the agreement] will not be sufficient” for the European Parliament to ratify it, Vedrenne said.

An uncertain future

“Trade can also help us achieve our climate and sustainability objectives,” Dombrovkis told MEPs at the start of his hearing. However, these words did not reassure those who oppose the Commission’s proposal in the European Parliament.

“Re-opening certain concluded negotiations would risk upsetting the careful balance” of the agreement,” he said, noting that the additional piece of legislation the Commission is proposing is a way for the EU to “[reach] out to the new Brazilian authorities”.

As it currently stands, however, the agreement “will not easily pass through the European Parliament”, said another member of the INTA committee, United Left MEP Emmanuel Maurel, reiterating the position of many of his colleagues.

The European Parliament agreeing to such a proposal will be particularly difficult given that it already approved a directive on 6 December that aims to stop EU imports that result from deforestation such as soy – one of the main commodities covered in the EU-Mercosur deal.

‘Soy diplomacy’

On the other side of the Atlantic, Lula has long been pressuring the EU to agree to the deal with as he sees it as a first step before moving forward with discussions about an agreement between Mercosur and China.

The ratification of the deal has long been a goal of Lula’s, which he “already stated” during his second term as president from 2006 to 2010, French Green MEP Claude Gruffat told EURACTIV France in October. Moving forward with the agreement was one of Lula’s campaign promises in the run-up to Brazil’s October elections.

“For him, Brazil will pay its debt with soybeans,” Gruffat also told EURACTIV at the time.

Despite viewing the EU-Mercosur deal in its current form as destructive for the environment, Gruffat nevertheless acknowledged that Lula, as opposed to former president Jair Bolsonaro before him, would allow for better preservation of the forests and the indigenous populations living in them.

For the EU lawmakers that continue to oppose the current version of the deal, the potential for a revision may still on be on the cards. In Lula’s victory speech on 30 October, he said he wanted ratification – but “on new bases”.

French MEP and Co-President of the United Left, Manon Aubry, is also a staunch opponent of the deal, although she acknowledged to EURACTIV France its importance for the South American continent.

Some EU countries, however, appear to favour rapid ratification.

On Saturday (28 January), while travelling through Argentina, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz spoke of the “special importance” of the agreement, while Argentine President Alberto Fernandez stressed his wish for the deal to be “finalised once and for all”.

On Tuesday, Scholz tweeted that he wants to make “rapid progress” on the deal.

On Wednesday, Dombrovskis will meet with the Argentinian Foreign and International Trade Minister Santiago Andrés Cafiero.

 source: Euractiv