EU plunged into crisis as Austria rejects key trade pact – shames bloc's green credentials
Vienna became the latest EU capital to reject the controversial free-trade agreement in a letter to Portuguese prime minister Antonia Costa. They join states, such as France and Ireland, who have raised questions over the deal’s impact on the global warming and deforestation of the Amazon. Austrian vice-chancellor Werner Kogler warned the Mercosur pact goes against his government’s environmental and climate ambitions.
In a letter to the Portuguese Prime Minister, who holds the EU’s rotating presidency, Mr Kogler said: “The extensive forest fires in the Amazon region, also known as the lungs of the earth, in combination with an increase of intensive agro-industrial mode of agricultural production in Mercosur countries, will exacerbate global warming.
“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.
“I truly hope we agree that we must prevent such a scenario and that we and the entire EU have a major responsibility and a pivotal role to play now, on behalf of future generations, our children and grandchildren.”
Mr Kogler explained the move to veto the EU’s Mercosur trade pact is backed by the ruling conservative Austrian People’s Party and the Austrian Green Party, the junior coalition partner.
The EU agreed the deal with the South American trade bloc, made up of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, in June 2019.
But France and members of the European Parliament have led opposition to finalising the treaty amid fears the agreement does little to combat climate change.
Deforestation in the Amazon, the world’s largest rain forest, has surged since Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro took office in 2019.
Mr Kogler, a member of the Austrian Green Party, urged Portugal to prevent any political “manoeuvre” to allow the deal to be authorised via the back door.
EU member states are set to discuss the treaty, which was negotiated over two decades, on Thursday.
Portugal has announced it will use its presidency of the bloc to complete the ratification process for the pact in the coming months.
Lisbon has stated the pact has “geopolitical importance”.
Mr Kogler said: “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.
“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.”
Austria’s opposition was backed by MEPs from the European Parliament’s green bloc.
French MEP Yannick Jadot, the party’s trade chief, said: “The EU-Mercosur agreement is tantamount to the EU giving up any pretences of fighting against climate change.
“It's welcome to see the Austrian government join us in opposing the EU-Mercosur agreement. This agreement will massively contribute to deforestation, the globalisation of junk food, animal suffering and the disappearance of farmers in Latin America and Europe.
“European farmers will have to compete with an intensive agricultural model in the Mercosur countries where many pesticides banned in the EU are allowed.
“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.
“As the letter from the Austrian government points out, no agreement that poses a danger to the environment should be ratified. 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. All EU countries must reject this damaging agreement.”
German MEP Anna Cavazzini added: “We welcome the clear announcement by the Austrian government and call on all EU governments to join in rejecting the Mercosur Agreement. The Mercosur Agreement undermines the Green Deal and the climate commitments of the Paris Agreement and contains no sanctionable provisions on climate protection and human rights. In its current form, the agreement cements trade policies that put people, climate and the environment at risk; an additional protocol or declaration of intent to protect the rainforest is not enough. The agreement itself must be changed.
“We demand binding rules for deforestation-free supply chains and sanctionable standards in trade agreements like Mercosur instead of toothless sustainability chapters. We reject a circumvention of the democratic co-determination of national parliaments through a possible splitting of the agreement into a political part and a trade part. Both the European Commission and the Council Presidency are called upon to refrain from such undemocratic proposals."