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ClientEarth Communications

16th June 2020

Rule of law

We take action against the EU for failing to consider environmental and social impacts of South American trade deal

The European Commission has ignored its legal obligation to ensure the trade agreement with the ‘Mercosur’ group of South American countries will not lead to social, economic, environmental degradation and human rights violations, our new legal complaint highlights.

In a formal complaint submitted to the European Ombudsman, 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 – have outlined the Commission’s failure in concluding the trade negotiations without fully considering the agreement’s potential social, environmental and economic impacts.

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

But we have warned that the Commission did not have enough information to properly consider the deal’s potential impact on issues such as the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest, use of dangerous pesticides in farming or rights of indigenous population when negotiating it.

Our trade and environment lawyer Amandine Van Den Berghe said: “To properly agree a trade deal, negotiators are required to assess any potential social, environmental and economic impacts.

“Trade deals should only be struck when they will have a positive impact and, most importantly, will not have negative environment and social impacts.

“By failing to consider this, the European Commission is essentially turning a blind eye to the potential impact trading with these South American countries will have on Brazilian rainforests and indigenous rights.”

The submitted complaint details how the Commission failed to complete a sustainability impact assessment before negotiations ended and only published a draft report four months after the deal was struck, making the purpose of the process meaningless and any participation from civil society impossible.

Furthermore, NGOs said the report was weak and its content proved the Commission lacked sufficient and appropriate information to ensure sound, transparent and facts-based policy choices during the negotiations.

Amandine added: “The Commission says it intends to pursue a trade policy ‘based on values’ and should not conclude free trade agreements without knowing if it could encourage the violations of these values.

“Such agreements must be based on independent impact assessments, conducted on time so that they can inform negotiations in a meaningful, inclusive and transparent manner.

“On top of this, the Commission’s failure to ensure appropriate participation from civil society constitutes maladministration."

Gaelle Dusepulchre, permanent representative of the International Federation for Human rights to the EU (FIDH) said:

“The EU Ombudsman has previously concluded that the Commission's refusal to carry out a human rights impact assessment constituted maladministration. We deplore that this previous position has not been followed by action

“It’s vital that previous decisions are acted upon, to both empower civil society and ensure the EU is held accountable in regard to its constitutional founding principles."