Leaked treaty on EU-Mercosur trade deal ‘has no climate protection’

Greenpeace also says deal would help ‘accelerate the destruction of the Amazon’

There are no sanctionable clauses requiring the EU and Mercosur countries in South America to respect climate or environmental protection in the treaty under negotiation between the two blocs, according to a leaked copy of the negotiation text published by Greenpeace Germany.

The treaty also sets up decision-making bodies and procedures “that operate outside democratic scrutiny”, the environmental group said.

The EU-Mercosur Association Agreement sets out the conditions under which either of the parties could sanction the other, or suspend the agreement. It was finalised on June 18th with confirmation issued by the European Commission but not published.

“Nowhere in these conditions is there any requirement to respect commitments to tackle the climate emergency or to protect nature,” Greenpeace said on Friday.

This is especially worrying in light of concerns identified by critics of the trade deal, it added; notably the "ongoing destruction of the Amazon rainforest, the Pantanal wetlands and other ecosystems in Mercosur countries" – including Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay.

Greenpeace trade expert Jürgen Knirsch said: “Omitting binding commitments to stop nature destruction and tackle the climate crisis shows how little regard this deal has for the existential challenges we face.”

“The deal would accelerate the destruction of the Amazon, unleashing climate chaos and annihilating countless species. In the 21st century, international agreements must have the protection of people and nature at their core, not as a ‘nice-to-have’ – this deal doesn’t measure up and must be scrapped,” he added.

There is growing concern in Europe about possible climate impacts arising from the deal. German chancellor Angela Merkel indicated in August she has "considerable doubts" over whether to back the trade deal due to worsening deforestation in the Amazon.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar last month noted growing scepticism among governments and trade ministers "about whether we can approve and ratify and implement Mercosur when Brazil was not fully honouring its obligations under the Paris climate agreement". This week at a briefing on the Government's new Climate Action Bill, he underlined the deal would have to be rigorously "climate-proofed".

The leaked documents included the negotiated text of the EU-Mercosur Association Agreement with the overarching treaty, which incorporates the controversial EU-Mercosur free trade agreement, which has been publicly available since July 2019.

No sanctions

Unlike requirements in the deal to respect human rights or resist proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, environmental and climate protection is not considered an “essential element”, and parties to the deal cannot be sanctioned for breaches.

The deal text namechecks the Paris climate agreement, calling for its rapid implementation, but there are no binding commitments to support it or repercussions if the parties fail to implement it, Greenpeace noted.

It encourages investments from the financial sector, including the European Investment Bank, “but there is no requirement for these investments to meet sustainability criteria, leaving the door open to funding for climate-damaging industrial agriculture and the destruction of vital natural habitats”.

According to the negotiated text, the "Association Council" and the "Association Committees" of the agreement have the power to adopt binding decisions and interpretations of the agreement without democratic scrutiny or any involvement of the European Parliament and national parliaments.

Before the final approval process can start, the legal language of this text must be corrected and translated into all EU languages. The European Commission must then make a proposal to be submitted for a European Council decision to sign the agreement. This could be done at the Foreign Affairs Council (Trade) in early November. As the trade agreement is part of the "Association Agreement", this will require unanimous approval by the council before it can go to the European Parliament for approval.

In analysis for Greenpeace, Berlin-based trade specialist Thomas Fritz says there is a lack of concrete agreement on how implementation of individual human rights treaties could be supported. "In view of the deteriorating human rights situation, among other places in Brazil, more concrete measures could have been expected here, for example to protect land rights, indigenous communities, human rights defenders and environmentalists," he adds.

The co-operation part of the text contains articles on areas of environmental cooperation, including sustainable development, sustainable urban development, climate change, oceans and seas, energy and raw materials.

“However, even here there are hardly any concrete initiatives to which the parties would commit themselves. Instead, numerous so-called ‘best endeavour clauses’ exist, in which the parties formulate non-binding declarations of intent.”

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times