Free trade agreements: four questions for Martin Häusling (MEP) on the Mercosur negotiations

March 14th, 2018 – Martin Häusling, spokesperson for agricultural policies of the Grünen/EFA political group at the European Parliament, criticises the negotiations secretly carried out between the Mercosur South American countries and the EU on a free trade agreement, and calls them a “scandalous mystery”. The Minister for Foreign Affairs of Paraguay openly talks about the approaching conclusion of the negotiations, while European citizens do not know anything about them. Slow Food Germany talks to Häusling about this new agreement.

martin-haeusling-mep

Slow Food Germany: What kind of free trade agreement is the Mercosur deal? When it comes to consumer protection and the food sector, can it be compared to other agreements, such as TTIP and CETA?

Martin Häusling: The UE-Mercosur agreement would be the largest agreement ever signed by the EU. The Mercosur countries export six times as much as Canada; for this reason alone, the Mercosur agreement has a much wider scope than Ceta, for instance. As for consumer protection, exactly as with Ceta, the so called non-tariff barriers to trade are the critical issue. These include norms and standards on health, consumer and environment protection, such as the ban on imports of hormone-treated meat, or the labelling of genetically modified food. It’s these non-tariff barriers that have repeatedly led WTO negotiations to failure.

From a consumer perspective, this set of norms and standards must be viewed with a critical eye in the case of Mercosur too. The text on the controls on animal health is weak. New meat scandals seem to be inevitable. Whether it will be possible, in future, to ban herbicides and pesticides without an army of trade lawyers striking back is not clear. There are no clear bans, nor control obligations. The “rotten meat” scandal in Brazil has shown how little Europe is protected from the arrival of these goods to our continent.

In case of ratification of the agreement, what do you think would be at stake for the European and South American food sector, as well as for citizens, animals, the environment and climate?

What is supposed to be agreed will not be without fatal consequences for some sectors of European agriculture, and for the nature of Latin America. If at least 100,000 tons of duty-free beef or more reach the EU market, then pasture-reared European cattle is at risk of disappearing, while in Latin America more rain forest and dry forests will be cleared. An agreement with such contents tramples over nature, violates the rights of European farmers and of indigenous, oppressed farmers in Latin America.

For Europe, the agreement means that the market will be flooded with genetically modified soy, agrofuels and meat of questionable origin and quality. For some time now, the beef produced in Latin America does not come from pasture-reared cattle, but from animals kept in so-called feedlots – which is nothing but factory farming, only without a roof.

You are rightly critical of the secrecy on the European Commission on the Mercosur negotiations. As a European citizen, you have to wonder: how can it come to the point where EU decision makers can decide the fate of such an important agreement behind closed doors?

The trade policy falls under the exclusive competence of the EU. If, however, trade agreements also involve issues which are included in areas of shared competence, then the Commission may define them as mixed agreements. Such agreements shall be ratified not only by the European Parliament, but also by all national Parliaments and, depending on the applicable national law, by further bodies too, such as the Bundesrat in Germany. As you can see, the participation of member states and democratic representatives is not structurally excluded. Also, at the beginning of a free trade agreement process, member states give negotiating mandate to the European Commission.

The problem is that these agreements have always been discussed away from the public eye, and only by trade experts, without the input of any voice from civil society on labour rights, health, the environment or consumer rights. It’s all about a trade deal, and not about making the world a better or fairer place. At the time of negotiations, the members of the Parliament have the problem that they can only accept or reject in its entirety an agreement that might have been discussed for over 10 years and is more than 1000 pages long. Just imagine the social pressure if you do not want to vote in favour of the outcome of this whole process. I believe that a transparent impact assessment should be provided, and a wide social debate should be launched BEFORE giving the negotiating mandate. During the negotiations, we would need an advisory board from civil society, and the European Parliament should at least have the right to amend the document.

In your opinion, what should a fair free trade agreement with the Mercosur countries look like?

I believe that, in light of the globally acknowledged Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), trade agreements should essentially strive to harmonize – from both sides and at the highest possible level – the requirements in terms of labour rights, health, the environment and consumer rights. Unfortunately, in the minds of most trade “experts”, the protection of resources and health and human rights are just costs that need to be minimized, rather than fundamental and desirable conditions for fair trade and safeguarding the future. This view must be urgently changed. Regardless of all this, for some products it just does not make any sense to ship them across oceans. And this is certainly true for beef.

 

Martin Häusling

Born on March 26th, 1961 in Bad Wildungen, he is the father of two children. Martin Häusling has a background in agricultural engineering and since 1988 he has been managing his own farm, Kellerwaldhof, according to the Bioland guidelines for organic farming. Since 1999, the farm has also been producing its own cheese. From 2003 to 2009 he was member of the Landtag of the Hessen region as a political spokesperson for agriculture, Europe, consumer protection, rural areas and genetic engineering. At the European elections of June 7th, 2009, Martin Häusling was elected at the European Parliament, where he is currently a member of the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development (AGRI) and the Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI). He is also the spokesperson for agricultural policies for the GRÜNEN/EFA political group. Martin Häusling is a member of Slow Food Germany.

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