The agreement between Mercosur and the European Union gives rise to heated debates which, depending on the perspective from which they are approached, give rise to different opinions. From a geopolitical and geoeconomic perspective, support for the agreement clearly predominates. From an ecological point of view and the protection of the Amazon rainforest, the rejection is almost unanimous.
Since the signing of the agreement – which has yet to be approved by governments and the European Parliament – in July 2019, there have been several changes on the European scene. In general, Europe has become “greener” in recent years and this change has manifested itself, for example, in the renewal of the European Commission, which now takes a much more active approach to environmental protection.
It has also been notable in the composition of the European Parliament and in the participation of various green parties in their respective national governments. The European Green Deal also influences the Community’s foreign policy, with the aim of using the economic weight of the EU to promote environmental standards and combat climate change and environmental degradation.
According to a survey by the Rainforest Foundation in Norway, conducted in January 2021 in 12 European countries, the vast majority of respondents agreed to ask their governments to stop deforestation in the Amazon before the agreement is approved and ratified. From Europe, a large coalition called “Stop EU-Mercosur” was organized, made up of more than 400 civil society organizations and social movements from Europe and South America.
The Amazon rainforest has symbolic importance in Europe. On the one hand, the images of burning trees touch each other and have made Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro the ideal environmental protection villain. There is no doubt that there are legitimate concerns behind the widespread mobilization against the EU-Mercosur deal.
THE COSTS OF A ‘NO AGREEMENT’
Sometimes, however, its opponents give the impression that they believe that suspending the agreement will solve all the problems related to climate change and environmental destruction. In this case, the deal becomes a scapegoat and its elimination would amount to saving humanity with a quick fix.
Without a deal, the Amazon rainforest would not be safer, and Brazil would not export less meat or soy. Bolsonaro would also not be in dispute for not signing the agreement. Europeans would sleep with a clear conscience, but Europe would have much less influence on Brazilian politics. According to the European Commission, free trade agreements are platforms for better cooperation which promote European values and interests. This platform would not exist without an agreement.
The campaign against the Mercosur deal can not only ensure that its rejection will lead to change, but also does not take into account possible side effects. The problem with many studies on the EU-Mercosur deal is that they overestimate its negative impact. At the same time, they do not calculate the costs of the alternative scenarios.
What if the EU and Mercosur fail to come to an agreement and instead Mercosur deepens its trade relationship with China? Will the climate, the environment and the Amazon rainforest be better protected? Will the tendency to reprimand the Mercosur economies be reversed and will the Brazilian or Argentinian industry be better protected?
Trade agreements need to be strategically oriented and not so dependent on the governments of the day. For the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, the EU-Mercosur agreement has deep geopolitical significance. Borrell was very clear about this in a speech to the European Parliament in January 2021, when he said the EU couldn’t say it wanted to get involved with Latin America and work with the countries of the region and, at the same time, not to ratify the agreement with Mercosur. If Europe does not strengthen its relations with the region, others will.
A MOMENT OF OPPORTUNITY?
Brazil is very important to be marginalized in European foreign policy. At the moment, it is not an easy partner. However, the same can be said of many other Latin American governments. The Brazilian government finds itself in a complicated situation and, as a result, may now be more willing to take into account European environmental concerns, but also those of national political and trade groups. Brazil’s environment ministry is in the sights of Congress and it remains to be seen whether the change of foreign ministry, under pressure from Congress, will lead to more pragmatism in foreign policy.
Perhaps now is the right time to bypass the cliffs of the agreement between the EU and Mercosur and find a satisfactory and constructive solution to the problems of implementing the Paris agreement and protecting the Amazon rainforest. . There are already proposals on the table, such as the protection of a binding environmental clause in the EU-Mercosur agreement. In addition, a mechanism could be created for a “green dialogue” on environmental issues between the two actors, with the participation of civil society and professional associations.
European trade policy faces a dilemma. It aims, on the one hand, to defend the geoeconomic and geopolitical interests of the EU, but it also wants to serve as an instrument to ensure the implementation of the basic principles of the Green Deal in external relations. Europe has not yet found the right balance between geopolitics and ecopolitics. The agreement with Mercosur is a first test.
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