The German government is pushing for the controversial EU-Mercosur free trade agreement, which has been criticized by many EU countries and the agricultural sector. Berlin believes that free

trade and environmental protection can complement each other and should be based on strong sustainability cooperation between the EU and the four Mercosur countries: Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil, and Argentina. The German Economy and Climate Minister Robert Habeck and Agriculture Minister Cem Özdemir recently embarked on a six-day trip to South America with a business delegation to further trade and sustainability.

However, many in the EU farming sector are worried that opening up to a set of countries that are big agricultural exporters could mean that the market is flooded with cheaper foodstuffs produced abroad without adhering to EU standards. The EU farmers' association Copa-Cogeca believes that the draft agreement currently on the table does not contain sufficient provisions to tackle the problem.

The French President Emmanuel Macron has positioned himself against those who "want to resume negotiations" and Austria has submitted a note on the "agricultural implications" of the agreement ahead of the EU agriculture ministers' meeting. The paper argues that the agreement, for which negotiations started in 1999, is not state of the art and that more recent trade deals found more "modern" ways to incorporate sustainability standards.

Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa hopes that Spain taking over the EU Council presidency in July could create "new momentum" for EU trade policy, particularly with regard to the trade agreements with Mexico, Chile, and Mercosur.

Despite the criticism, Germany is championing the EU-Mercosur agreement in hopes of achieving sustainability through cooperation. Özdemir pointed out that the current draft deal sets strict quotas for agricultural imports to the EU, and the impact on domestic agriculture would thus be minimal. For Berlin, more sustainability and strategic strengthening of trade relations with the Mercosur agreement could go hand in hand.

It remains to be seen whether the concerns of the EU farming sector and other EU countries will be taken into account in the final version of the agreement. The EU-New Zealand agreement struck in June 2022 saw trade partners agree to follow internationally recognized environmental and social standards and was hailed as an example for future trade deals. The EU will need to balance the benefits of free trade with the need for environmental and social protections in any future trade agreements. Photo by Rr Gimenez, Wikimedia commons.