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Inquiry opened over EU failure to consider environmental and social impacts of South American trade deal

The European Ombudsman has opened an inquiry into the EU Commission’s trade agreement with the ‘Mercosur’ group of South American countries. This follows a complaint from several NGOs alleging that the Commission ignored its legal obligation to ensure the trade deal would not lead to social, economic, environmental degradation and human rights violations.

In June 2020, environmental and human rights organisations ClientEarth, Fern, Veblen Institute, La Fondation Nicolas Hulot pour la Nature et l’Homme and International Federation for Human Rights submitted a formal complaint outlining the Commission’s failure in conducting the trade negotiations without fully considering the potential social, economic or environmental impacts.

Now, the Commission will have to answer to its conduct, after the Ombudsman this week announced that the complaint is admissible.

Overlooking environmental and social impacts

ClientEarth Trade and Environment Lawyer Amandine Van Den Berghe said:

“We welcome the Ombudsman’s inquiry into the trade deal between the European Union and Mercosur countries, which was concluded without seriously considering its environmental and social impacts, and without adequately ensuring civil society participation.

“We look forward to hearing the Commission’s reply to our concerns.”

In June last year, the Commission announced that after 20 years of negotiations, it had reached a trade agreement with Mercosur countries – Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. Combined, this group of countries is the fifth largest economy outside the EU, with an annual GDP of EUR 2.2. trillion.

On 18 June 2020, the European Union and Mercosur concluded negotiations on the Political Dialogue and Cooperation – the other two pillars that form the Mercosur Association Agreement with the trade deal.

In the Ombudsman complaint, NGOs highlighted that the Commission concluded the trade deal with only the first phase of the sustainability impact assessment process (out of three) completed.

On Wednesday the Commission finally published the draft final report of the sustainability impact assessment. The Commission will hold a Civil Society Dialogue on 22 July.

Too little, too late

Van Den Berghe continued: “The fact that the draft final report of the sustainability impact assessment was only published this week, more than a year after the conclusion of the trade negotiations, calls into question the Commission’s decision-making process.

“We need the Commission to explain to what extent this vitally important environmental assessment actually fed into the Commission’s policy choices during the negotiations.”

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Sergio Souza