On 28 June 2019, the European Union and the South American customs union Mercosur (Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay) struck a sweeping trade agreement covering almost 100 billion dollars’ worth of bilateral trade annually. Twenty years in the making, with stop-start trade negotiations having started in 1999, the EU-Mercosur political agreement is considered by the negotiating parties on both sides as a significant achievement. However, the terms of the deal – which have been published in draft individual chapters as both sides undertake a legal review of the text –  have elicited sharp criticism.

The European Commission characterises the accord as its most lucrative to date, saving businesses about 4 billion euros ($4.55 billion) in tariffs on exports, quadruple the amount achieved on its trade deal with Japan. For Mercosur, this would be its first deep trade agreement, which could spur economic growth in the region and strengthen Mercosur’s ability to compete in international markets. The Commission therefore has been quick to defend the deal, highlighting that it includes strong provisions on environmental protection and promotes sustainable development, notably by insisting that both parties maintain commitments and engagement under the Paris climate change agreement. EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan has been particularly vocal in support of the deal, underscoring that while including some trade-offs, it opens up new markets for EU agricultural producers and protects European food standards. While Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar has stated that he would not vote for the deal if it runs contrary to Ireland’s interests, Varadkar recently agreed to Hogan staying on in the next European Commission term, thereby positioning him to continue his strong advocacy in support of the agreement.

EU parliamentarians, several EU Member States and lobby groups, on the other hand, have decried the EU-Mercosur agreement as being detrimental for the environment, food safety and the EU’s agricultural sector. Surrounded by protesting Irish farmers, on 11 July,
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