On its way to ratification by national parliaments, the recently concluded EU-Mercosur trade deal has come under intensive criticism for its perceived negative effects on the environment.
The Mercosur deal envisages the import of 100,000 tonnes of meat on tariff-free terms, which will be matched with a higher quota for car, cheese and wine exports. The so-called “cows-for-cars” accord has been targeted by environmentalists as it encourages Brazilian cattle ranching and the continued deforestation of the Amazon.
Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro is opening up sections of the rainforest to commercial activity, creating a mass constituency of individuals that are able to take over land and sell it at a big profit. Data from Brazil’s space agency suggests that there has been a 90% increase in deforestation over the last year.
Cattle ranching is responsible for 80% of this deforestation, while soya plantations that provide animal feed complete the picture of ecological devastation. It is estimated that Brazil cuts down a football pitch of forest every minute, a policy that reduces the amount of carbon dioxide the rainforest pulls from the atmosphere and destroys the most biodiverse ecosystem on the planet. It is estimated that the Amazon is home to 10% of all species of plants and animals on the planet.
Over the course of 2018, up to 80% of the EU’s beef imports came from Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay.
Opposition to the agreement also comes from EU beef producers. Addressing the Irish parliament on Tuesday, the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Heather Humphreys sought to address farming concerns, noting that Mercosur initially sought a quota of 300,000 tonnes of meat, which the EU reduced by two-thirds.
French President Emmanuel Macron is defending the EU-Mercosur agreement, suggesting that attention should shift to Brazil adhering to the Paris climate accord, which President Bolsonaro has challenged. The EU has thus far not taken a commitment not to buy beef from deforested lands, although a similar commitment for soybeans produced in deforested land is already in place.