Five environmental and human rights organisations have put yet another obstacle in the way of a Mercosur-EU trade deal, with EU Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly opening an inquiry after the five civil society organisations complained that the EU Commission did not produce an updated sustainability impact assessment before an agreement was reached in the trade negotiations in June 2019.
The enquiry findings could be crucial in determining the approval of the Mercosur deal by the 27 EU countries.
Parliaments in the Netherlands, Austria, and the Belgian region of Wallonia have already indicated their opposition to the deal in its current form.
Other nations, including France and Ireland, have indicated reservations with the agreement.
The Ombudsman’s inquiry has been welcomed by farmer organisations, who learned from a recent sustainable impact assessment (SIA) report by the London School of Economics that EU beef farmers could be the biggest losers in free trade with Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, while pharmaceutical industries could be the biggest winners.
However, the Irish and EU dairy sector is predicted to be a big winner if there is an ambitious trade deal scenario.
A quota of 99,000 tonnes of beef imports at 7.5% tariff would hit the EU beef industry, because high-quality chilled beef steak cuts from South America would disproportionately devalue EU carcases.
Complainants to the EU Ombudsman said the Commission disregarded its own guidelines on the use of SIAs, and disregarded sustainability goals for EU trade.
“I have decided that it would be useful to receive a written reply from the Commission to this complaint”, said the Ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly, in a letter to Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, seeking a reply within three months.
“If, in the course of this inquiry, the Commission becomes involved in court proceedings concerning the same subject matter as this complaint, I would ask you to let us know.”
The Ombudsman has put several other questions related to SIAs to the Commission, for whom a spokesperson said the Commission intends to respond in full. “We are confident that in these replies we will be able to demonstrate the sound administrative practices that we’ve followed in this case.”
The complainants — ClientEarth, Fern, Veblen Institute, La Fondation Nicolas Hulot pour la Nature et l’Homme (Foundation for Nature and Mankind), and International Federation for Human Rights — argued that the Commission ignored its legal obligations to ensure that the deal would not do any social or economic or environmental harm, or lead to rights abuses.
Fianna Fáil MEP Billy Kelleher welcomed the announcement of an inquiry into the EU Commission’s Mercosur trade deal.
He said, “If the EU cannot follow its own guidelines, how can we be confident that the decision taken is in the best interests of EU citizens and of the environment?
“The idea that such a trade deal would not have a major impact on sustainability is ludicrous to me. How can producing beef in South America and transporting it across the Atlantic to Europe, when we already produce, to the highest animal welfare and environmental standards, enough high quality beef ourselves, be environmentally sustainable? Ms O’Reilly’s decision to commence an inquiry makes sense to me, and represents a victory for those EU citizens who are deeply dismayed by the Commission’s short-sightedness. We need to rethink the Mercosur deal, and to put it bluntly, scrap it,” said Kelleher.