MEPs have major beef with Mercosur’s climate consequences

Amazon forest will be at centre of long and bruising battle on trade deal’s ratification

Incoming  EU commissioner for trade  Phil Hogan: argues that the Mercosur treaty will be the first real leverage the EU has on Brazil’s government over its policies in the Amazon. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Incoming EU commissioner for trade Phil Hogan: argues that the Mercosur treaty will be the first real leverage the EU has on Brazil’s government over its policies in the Amazon. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

 

The loss of Amazon forest between 1990 and 2016 now totals some 1.3 million square kilometres, at a rate equivalent to 800 football pitches an hour, Tilly Metz of the Greens told fellow MEPs in Strasbourg this week.

The European Parliament debate on the 74,000 fires recorded this year in the Amazon basin heard appeals for action by the EU to save the fast-depleting “lungs of the planet”.

Inevitably the focus was on how real EU pressure can be exerted on the far-right climate-change-denying government of Jair Bolsonaro and specifically on the issue of ratification of the huge Mercosur trade agreement.

A long and bruising battle has opened up on its ratification, one that is likely to draw in Irish commissioner Phil Hogan at hearings shortly on his new appointment to the key trade role. Hogan, who was involved in negotiating the deal, is a strong advocate.

The agreement reached this summer with the Latin American states of the Mercosur bloc, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and which will be ratified by the EU in two years, has been controversial in Ireland, particularly among farmers, because it proposes to increase beef import quotas into Europe by 100,000 tonnes.

Austria this week joined Ireland, Luxembourg and France in threatening to block the deal unless Brazil acts on the forest fires.

‘Climaticide’

MEPs see the deal as environmentally disastrous in underpinning the deforestation – the deliberate setting of fires is, they say, a direct result of boosting the demand for beef, soy and sugar and the farmland needed to produce them. They spoke of the Mercosur deal as contributing to “ecocide” and “climaticide”.

Irish MEPs were among the most vocal.

Mick Wallace (Independent/Gue NGL) argued that “the production of beef is without question the biggest cause of deforestation in the Amazon, so it stands to reason that the quickest way to end deforestation in the Amazon will be to reduce demand for Brazilian beef.

“But now the EU wants to flood the European market with more South American beef every year through the Mercosur deal. You couldn’t make it up,” he said.

Grace O’Sullivan (Green/ALE) spoke of the “neglect and even perhaps the active encouragement of the Bolsonaro regime”.

Hogan insists that the treaty will be the first real leverage the EU has on Bolsonaro. He told The Irish Times in a recent interview: “We have used market access for the first time to yield substantial progress in relation to sustainability.”

“There’s a separate chapter on sustainability. There’s a dispute resolution mechanism if there is not full compliance with the Paris climate agreement. And ultimately a decision can be made by any member state, and by the European Parliament, that we will abandon this particular deal with the Mercosur countries if not all aspects are going to be complied with.”

Mairead Mc Guinness (FG/EPP) echoed his view, insisting the EU “must make sure the climate and biodiversity commitments [in the treaty] are honoured.”

Christophe Hansen (EPP) said it was a unique opportunity to hold Brazil to its commitments under Paris – “such as to reforest and restore 12 million hectares and to attain zero illegal deforestation by 2030.”

Fianna Fáil’s Billy Kelleher Billy Kelleher (Renew) demurred: “If the Mercosur agreement is ratified, it is Europe that will tear up the Paris Agreement, not the others. We have ethical, moral obligations to insist that any trade deals comply with the vigours and rigours of the Paris Agreement, and we should insist on that at the very minimum before we sign any Mercosur trade agreement. “

‘Structurally destructive’

Opponents of the treaty argue that the issue is not about seeing the treaty as leverage, but that it itself contributes to accelerating deforestation and global warming. Green Yannick Jadot argued that “the Mercosur agreement – that Brazil signed because it wants to export soya and beef – is structurally destructive of Amazonia and structurally climaticide. Similarly with CAP, which will reinforce Brazil soy imports.”

For Emmanuel Maurel (Gue) “the reality is that the Mercosur deal – in black and white – is about more ethanol, more sugar, more beef. It is an incredible incitement to deforestation.”

They argue that the sustainability provisions in the deal are “toothless”, with no means of sanction. The sustainability chapter merely encourage trade in sustainably managed forests but does not have the binding force of the trade provisions in the rest of the agreement, they say.

The campaign against Mercosur is being led by the Greens and the left (Gue/NGL) groups with some support in the mainstream socialists and liberals. A majority may yet, however, prove elusive.

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