(EurActiv) — Austria’s coalition government has confirmed it will block the landmark EU-Mercosur trade agreement – which should create the biggest free-trade area in the world – saying it goes against the EU’s environmental ambitions set out in the European Green Deal.
Vice-Chancellor Werner Kogler, a lawmaker from the Green party, co-governing with the conservative Austrian People’s Party (EPP), sent a letter to Antonia Costa, the prime minister of Portugal, which currently holds the EU rotating presidency.
“The extensive forest fires in the Amazon region […] in combination with the increase of intensive agro-industrial mode of agricultural production in Mercosur countries will exacerbate global warming,” Kogler wrote in his letter, quoted by EURACTIV’s partner Efe.
“If we go on boosting trade and economic growth without taking the impacts on biodiversity, ecosystems and natural resources into account, we will inevitably be heading towards a climate catastrophe,” he added.
For this reason, Kogler said, the two coalition partners have rejected the deal and called on Lisbon to avoid any political “manoeuvre” to bring the trade deal through the back door.
“Our rejection also refers to possible attempts to conclude a decision by means of a joint declaration or a protocol annexed to the Agreement, or by splitting the Agreement,” Kogler warned.
“We must seize this opportunity to use the Green Deal to advance international climate protection and give new impetus to the Paris Agreement. Signing the Mercosur trade agreement would thwart such progress,” he added.
EU Greens hail Vienna’s decision
The EU-Mercosur agreement, reached in June 2019 between the EU and the countries of this Latin American bloc (Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay) after two decades of negotiations, is currently in the translation and legal review phase, at the end of which, the countries of both blocs will have to ratify it.
The Green party in the European Parliament immediately welcomed Vienna’s decision to block the trade deal, calling on other countries to follow this example.
“This trade deal is contrary to the European commitments set out in the Green Deal and the climate commitments of the Paris Agreement. The Mercosur text is flawed to the core, no additional protocol or joint declaration will suffice to change its impact on the climate,” Green MEP Yannick Jadot MEP commented.
“It is time for European trade policy to fully integrate ecological, social and democratic issues. The insignificant economic stakes alone are not sufficient to justify the signing of a new international agreement,” he added.
Several member states, MEPs and civil society organisations have already expressed strong reservations about the ratification of the agreement, due to concerns regarding its compatibility with the Paris Agreement and the impact it will have on global warming, pointing, among several problems, to deforestation of the Amazon.
Speeding up the procedures of the Mercosur deal has been a top priority for the Portuguese EU Presidency, and Lisbon has also highlighted the “geopolitical importance” of the deal.
“This agreement with Mercosur has a geopolitical and geostrategic importance that goes far beyond the field of trade,” Portugal’s secretary of state for internationalisation, Eurico Brilhante Dias recently said.
The agreement could be important for countries like Chile, Colombia or Peru, which are outside Mercosur and have “strong links to the Pacific”. This, he argued, could pave the way for “alliances of an Eastern nature”.
On 3 March, Portugal’s foreign minister Augusto Santos Silva said Lisbon would seek “clarification” on environmental standards.
Paris has also expressed serious concerns about the Mercosur deal. France’s foreign trade minister, Franck Riester, said in early February that Paris expected “guarantees” from the South American bloc on “environment and health standards.
“It does not mean our withdrawal, but we will only be satisfied with a political declaration on environmental commitments from the four countries involved and that will take a long time,” he said.