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Understand Emmanuel Macron's turnaround on the EU-Mercosur agreement

2019-08-27T17:01:42.687Z

The French president has withdrawn his support for the controversial trade agreement with Brazil, against a backdrop of Jair Bolsonaro.



A demonstration in support of Brazilian President Jair Bolsnora in front of the French Embassy in Brasilia on 25 August. SERGIO LIMA / AFP

Political coup or real awareness? The question is worth asking after Emmanuel Macron's dramatic turnaround on the trade agreement between the European Union (EU) and Mercosur (which brings together Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay) . In the middle of the G7 in Biarritz, as fires ravage the Amazon, the French president withdraws Friday, August 23, his support for this controversial free trade treaty, denouncing the inaction of his Brazilian counterpart Jair Bolsonaro in terms of climate and climate change. biodiversity. For the many opponents of the agreement, this good news sparked cautious reactions - some seeing it as an opportunistic announcement at little cost.

The agreement in brief

The trade agreement between the European Union and Mercosur (Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay) aims to facilitate trade between the two blocs. It foresees the elimination, within ten years, of almost all the customs duties applied today on exports from one continent to another. In agriculture, the EU has accepted an annual import quota of 99 000 tonnes of South American beef. In return, it obtained better access for its companies to the public markets of the Mercosur countries and protection of its protected geographical indications.

In detail: What does the free trade agreement between the EU and Mercosur contain?

1. Emmanuel Macron changed his mind for no obvious reason

When the EU and Mercosur announced at the end of June that they had found a trade agreement, Emmanuel Macron had been rather benevolent. Despite strong contestation, even in his camp, he explained that the agreement was "good at this stage . " Cautioning against "neoprotectiveist" attitudes, he had advocated a " climate-free, climate- neutral [commercial] openness " .

Decryption: Why the agreement with Mercosur is so criticized

Ecologists accused him of making a flower in Bolsonaro by making a deal with his country? On the contrary, the French president welcomed the introduction of a clause obliging Brazil to respect its climate commitments. This "ecology versus trade" lever was thought of as a virtuous mechanism to prevent Mr. Bolsonaro from leaving the Paris Agreement, as he threatened to do. It could even allow to "replant twelve million hectares" of forest in the Amazon, said Secretary of State Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne, July 2. At most Mr. Macron had conceded that he would conduct an "independent assessment" to verify that Brazil was meeting its commitments before making its official signature.

In addition to shining the spotlight around the world on the destructive policy of the Brazilian president, the fires that ravage the Amazon have obviously changed his mind Emmanuel Macron. Since Biarritz, he has accused Jair Bolsonaro of having "lied" to him on his commitment to the climate and biodiversity, as if the Brazilian president had revealed his true face.

However, since his campaign, Mr. Bolsonaro has never concealed the little case he made the protection of the Amazon. The recent upsurge in fires is only a logical consequence of the far-right president's far-reaching policies of deforestation since coming to power. That Mr. Bolsonaro has given up leaving the Paris Agreement has not changed his domestic policy.

Interview with Cecilia Malmström, European Commissioner for Trade: "We will not tackle the climate challenge by refusing to trade"

By letting go of the EU-Mercosur agreement, Emmanuel Macron is therefore doing nothing wrong with his showdown. After trying the carrot, he folds on the stick. Indeed, if he had given his signature, Emmanuel Macron would have almost abandoned his last means of pressure. The EU-Mercosur agreement contains clauses intended to force Brazil to respect its commitments on climate and deforestation. But if they are not respected (which is difficult, and often very long, to establish), the agreement does not provide for very effective retaliatory measures.

Interview with Adriana Ramos, researcher: "Brazil will do nothing to respect the Paris agreement on climate"

2. The agreement is not (yet) dead

At this stage, it is unclear whether Emmanuel Macron has a formal veto on the EU-Mercosur agreement. Depending on the legal nature of the treaty, which is not yet known, unanimity or a simple qualified majority of the EU Member States will be required. Beyond the legal details, a French no is most likely enough to torpedo the deal politically. Especially since Mr Macron has already received the support of several countries, including Ireland and Luxembourg.

But the French head of state was careful not to insult the future. He only stated on August 23 that he was opposed to the EU-Mercosur agreement "as is" . The ratification process can be measured in years, it is not impossible that the subject will return to the table in the future ... without the certainty that Jair Bolsonaro and Emmanuel Macron are still in power at that time.

The President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, also reaffirmed his support for the agreement Saturday, while acknowledging that conditions were not met today for a "harmonious ratification" .

Most likely, the EU and Mercosur will continue to fine-tune the details of their trade agreement in the coming months as the political context becomes clearer. They can then decide to launch the ratification of the agreement, to renegotiate certain points, or to bury it definitively. In any case, it will require the approval of the European Parliament, which is not necessarily acquired.

3. Bury the deal is not enough to save the Amazon

"I believe that the non-conclusion of the agreement with Mercosur would in no way contribute to the fact that one hectare less is cleared in Brazil, on the contrary," warned in June the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel. Judging by the violent and vulgar reaction of Jair Bolsonaro, Emmanuel Macron's no seems unable to deflect the Brazilian president from his trajectory.

That's why some call Mr. Macron to go further. Its former minister of ecology Nicolas Hulot claims "trade sanctions" to ban the import of Brazilian agricultural products contributing to deforestation:

  • the 12 million tonnes of Brazilian soybeans imported annually by the EU to feed livestock (which, even before the trade agreement, are already not subject to any tariff);

  • the 140 000 tonnes of Brazilian beef imported each year, which can come from farms that contribute to deforestation.

For the moment, Emmanuel Macron has never considered such trade sanctions. In his strategy against "imported deforestation" presented a year ago, his government had merely offered incentives.

Macronist MEP Pascal Canfin (formerly EELV) today ensures that the European Parliament is working to "limit access to the European [ deforestation products ] market " , but such a move seems far away. No binding standards were included in the July EU deforestation strategy.

The money can also serve as a means of pressure against Bolsonaro: Norway and Germany have recently decided to cut subsidies to Brazil under the Amazon Preservation Fund. France can not do the same, since it does not contribute to this fund.

On the other hand, Paris has the leverage of development aid: the French Agency for Development is now funding many projects in Brazil. Cutting these subsidies, assuming this is possible, could, however, be counterproductive by blocking projects related to ecological transition.

Read our decryption: Understanding everything about the free trade agreement between the EU and Mercosur

Correction, 26th August at 17:15: the EU accepted beef quota is not 160,000, but 99,000 tonnes.

Maxime Vaudano

Source: lemonde

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