Since 1999 already, the EU and the Mercosur countries (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay) have been negotiating a trade deal. Now a political agreement has been reached and the texts were published. The Chamber of Labour (AK) opposes the Agreement.
The EU Commission emphasises the importance of the Agreement, which will affect 780 million people, as in times of international trade tensions it represents a commitment to a rule-based trade system. Apart from reducing tariffs on industrial and agricultural products, the Agreement also provides for a liberalisation of services and public procurement. In addition, the published texts of the agreement include the commitment of all contracting parties to promote sustainability and the protection of environmental standards and labour and human rights. However, in spite of this commitment, the AK is critical of the Agreement, not least because of the massive worsening of the human rights situation in Brazil.
Human and labour rights at risk
In a letter signed by AK President Renate Anderl and ÖGB President Wolfgang Katzian, the AK outlines its position on the planned Agreement and warns in particular of increasing human rights violations and attacks on minorities, LGBTIQ and the indigenous population in Brazil, which have become evident since President Jair Bolsonaro took office in January 2019. Almost slave like labour conditions can be found on soya and sugarcane plantations as well as cattle farms and there are reports about violations of ILO Core Labour Standards. Bolsonaro also announced his intention to end any form of activism, which would greatly restrict the work of NGOs and trade unions and entail the danger of persecution.
Deforestation of the rainforest
Bolsonaro, who threatens to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement, is also siding with the powerful agricultural and soya companies, paving the way to deforestation of the rainforest: in June 2019 alone, Brazil cleared 60 % more rainforest than in June of the previous year. Overall, 762 square kilometres were cleared in June; this is almost double the size of Vienna. Cutting down the rainforest does not just mean the loss of one the most biodiverse regions worldwide; it is also an irreversible retrograde step in the fight against climate change.
Sustainability Chapter without effective consequences
Even though in the published Sustainability Chapter the EU and the Mercosur countries commit themselves to adhere to the Paris Climate Agreement, the ILO Conventions and other Directives on protecting labour and human rights and the environment; there does, however - in contrast to the remaining Agreement - a special dispute settlement procedure apply to this Chapter, which initially provides for consultations at government level, providing for an assessment by an independent panel of experts in a second step. Hence, in case of violations against labour, social and environmental standards no effective consequences, such as sanctions exist, criticises the AK.
Risk to European consumers
From a consumer perspective, the situation around the liberalisations in the agricultural and food sector is of concern. The hygiene standards in the Mercosur countries are by far not as strict as in the EU. In particular, the meat industry uses antibiotics, which are not approved by the EU. In contrast to the EU, Mercosur countries can bring all substances to market, as long as there is no proof that these are harmful, explains AK expert Valentin Wedl, who rejects the Agreement in its current form.
However, before the Agreement will be finalised, the text of the agreement will first be legally assessed and translated into all official languages of the EU. Subsequently, the EU Parliament has to vote on it. Apart from that, the part of the Agreement dealing with investment courts, must also be ratified by the EU Member States. In the meantime, a broad protest movement has been forming against the MERCOSUR Agreement: more than 340 organisations - among them the AK - are demanding to stop the negotiations.