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EU Mercosur trade agreement : 5 organisations file a complaint with the EU Ombudsman

Mathilde Dupré, 15 June 2020

[English] [français]

The European Commission finalised negotiations of the EU-Mercosur trade agreement in June 2019 without solid evidence of the agreement’s social and environmental impacts. This is why the Veblen Institute, the Nicolas Hulot Foundation, Clientearth, Fern and the International Federation for Human Rights are filing a complaint with the EU Ombudsman.

The Commission has failed to meet its legal obligation to ensure that the agreement will not lead to social, economic and environmental degradation and human rights violations. At issue: the first draft of the Sustainability impact assessment draft interim report was not published until four months after the official announcement of the end of the negotiations ... thus rendering the prior impact assessment process meaningless and making it impossible for civil society to participate effectively. While the ratification of the EU-Mercosur agreement will be one of the priorities of the German EU Presidency, the 5 organisations call on the EU ombudsperson to take up the matter, in order to suspend the ratification process until the impact assessment has been completed (including the consultation of civil society on the results and recommendations, and the Commission’s response on how to take these results into account).

About the EU Mercosur trade deal
 With over 260 million consumers and an annual GDP of 2.2 trillion euros, the Mercosur is the fifth largest economy outside the EU.
 If the process is successful, the trade agreement will be the largest concluded by the EU for the population concerned (780 million people) and one of the largest in terms of the volume of trade covered (40 to 45 billion euros of imports and exports).
 The deal should encourage exports by European companies in the automotive, chemical, pharmaceutical and clothing sectors and offer them increased access to the public markets of Mercosur states. In exchange, Mercosur-based companies would benefit, in particular in the agri-food industry, from larger outlets on the European market for their production, including beef, poultry, sugar/ethanol, etc. ]

A draft impact report published after the negotiations and incomplete

The European Commission has a legal obligation to conduct independent impact assessments in a timely manner so that they can inform the negotiations in a meaningful and transparent manner. However, with the publication of the first draft report four months after the end of the negotiations, the organisations argue that the Commission did not have enough information to properly consider the deal’s potential impact on issues such as the deforestation of the Amazon, use of dangerous pesticides in farming or rights of indigenous population when negotiating it.

Especially as some crucial parts of this first draft report had not yet been finalised. Additional analyses are still needed to be integrated, such as the impact on non-CO2 greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, pesticide use in Argentina and Uruguay or water resources in Paraguay and Uruguay. Moreover, some of the data used, particularly on deforestation, are old and do not allow the current deterioration of the situation, particularly in Brazil, to be taken into account.

Failure to comply with this prior assessment obligation is all the more serious as the EU-Mercosur agreement could contribute to exacerbating an already highly degraded situation in terms of human rights and respect for the environment, as analysed by the Veblen Institute and the FNH in their report «Un accord perdant-perdant » on the first elements of the agreement that have been made public.

A highly controversial agreement at European level

Negotiated for 20 years and often presented as a "cars for beef" agreement, the trade agreement between the EU and the Mercosur countries (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay) has been the subject of much criticism, including from governments of member states such as France and Ireland. The parliaments of Austria, Wallonia and most recently the Netherlands have even rejected the agreement in its current form. The resolution of the Dutch Parliament, adopted on 2 June 2020, refers in particular to the difference between European sanitary standards for imported and European products and the resulting unfair competition for European farmers and deplores the lack of a binding clause to protect the Amazon and combat illegal deforestation.

1999:Talks between the EU and Mercosur countries began.
2009: First sustainability impact assessment published.
2010: Negotiations restarted following a suspension of talks. Negotiations gained new impetus in 2016.
24 January 2018: consultants issued the Sustainability Impact Assessment inception (SIA) report, followed by stakeholder consultations.
April 2018: European and international NGOs sent a joint open letter, calling on the Commission to ensure “the ongoing sustainability and human rights impact assessments of the EU-Mercosur free trade agreement are conducted in a comprehensive and participatory way and that their findings are taken into account before concluding the negotiations, according to the rules set out in the Commission’s handbook for trade sustainability impact assessments and article 21 of the Treaty on the European Union”:
28 June 2019: EU and Mercosur announced political agreement on the EU-Mercosur Trade Agreement, while the new SIA was still ongoing and the interim report had not even been published.
July 2019: in a Q&A , the Commission explained that “Work is currently underway on a new a Trade Sustainability Impact Assessment (SIA) evaluating the economic, social, environmental and human rights impact of a trade agreement between the EU and Mercosur. An independent contractor is carrying out the study.”
15 July 2019: Organisation of a Civil Society Dialogue by the Commission to debrief civil society organisations on the state of play and to exchange views on the topic.
3 October 2019: publication of the SIA draft interim report (the “Draft Interim Report”) followed by stakeholder consultations.
November 2019 : contributions from the civil society on the “Draft Interim Report” (the contribution from Veblen Institute and FNH)
9 February 2020: publication of the final interim report (the “Interim Report”), with a similar assessment as in the draft interim report.

About us
ClientEarth is a charity that uses the power of the law to protect people and the planet. We are international lawyers finding practical solutions for the world’s biggest environmental challenges. We are fighting climate change, protecting oceans and wildlife, making forest governance stronger, greening energy, making business more responsible and pushing for government transparency. We believe the law is a tool for positive change. From our offices in London, Brussels, Warsaw, Berlin and Beijing, we work on laws throughout their lifetime, from the earliest stages to implementation. And when those laws are broken, we go to court to enforce them.

The Veblen Institute for Economic Reforms is a non-profit think tank promoting the economic ideas and public policies needed to accelerate the ecological transition. Through our publications and actions we work for a fairer economy that respects the physical limits of the planet.

Founded in 1990 by Nicolas Hulot, the Fondation pour la Nature et l’Homme (Foundation for Nature and Mankind) is an apolitical, non-confessional organisation declared of public interest. Its mission is to work towards a fairer, more united world in the respect of nature and well-being of mankind. The foundation is committed to accelerating individual and collective mind shifts towards an ecological transition of our societies. We believe that ecology should not be a topic amongst many others but instead be placed at the core of both public and private action.

Fern is a non-governmental organisation (NGO) and a Dutch Stichting created in 1995 to make the EU work for forests and people. Our work centres on forests and forest peoples’ rights and the issues that affect them such as EU consumption, trade, investment and climate change. All of our work is done in close collaboration with social and environmental organisations and movements across the world.

FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights) is an international human rights NGO federating 192 organisations from 117 countries. Since 1922, FIDH has been defending all civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights as set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.It acts at national, regional and international levels in support of its member and partner organisations to address human rights abuses and consolidate democratic processes.

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