European Union-Mercosur Trade Agreement Depends on Environmental Commitments and Stricter Text, Says MEP

For Anna Cavazzini, vice-president of the delegation dedicated to Brazil, Lula's government creates a favorable scenario for cooperation, but a 'safety net' is essential

Cristiane Fontes

In January, during a visit by German Prime Minister Olaf Scholz to Brasília, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (PT) said he hoped to conclude the trade agreement between the European Union (EU) and Mercosur by mid-2023.

The treaty, proposed more than 20 years ago, was only signed in June 2019, during the Bolsonaro government, but it was never ratified, due to a series of obstacles, in particular Brazil's setbacks in the socio-environmental agenda.

For the German MEP Anna Cavazzini, vice-chair of the delegation for relations with Brazil and chair of the committee on the internal market, before the text becomes effective, it will need a revision that guarantees stricter commitments with the environment.

In her view, the terms, written two decades ago, are outdated and, as they are non-binding, do not guarantee actions aligned with the reduction of deforestation.

"It has really non binding, suspended, sustainability standards that at the end will not have a great effect. So we need to adjust this and put sustainability and the fight against deforestation in the core of the agreement and only then can we advance", she says.

The delegation, which is chaired by Portuguese MEP José Manuel Fernandes, from the Social Democratic Party, plans to visit Brazil in May.

In the interview with Folha, Cavazzini, however, demonstrates optimism in relation to other legislation recently discussed in the European Parliament, such as the new regulation that prohibits the entry of commodities linked to deforestation.

The legislation, which has the potential to affect exports from Brazil, rejects a series of products —meat, soy, wood, rubber, cocoa, coffee and palm oil— from areas that have been deforested, even with legal permission, after December 31, 2020.

"This new regulation is really a kind of a revolution, if you think like that, because for the first time we have rules in the European Union that look at supply chains and will at the end prohibit imports from goods from deforested areas. This is a big, big step forward in the global fight against deforestation."

Although the regulation offers protection to the Amazon, the Atlantic Forest and the Chaco, typical forest biomes in South America, it was criticized by environmentalists for excluding the Cerrado from the agreement.

In this and other discussions that are fundamental to policies against climate change, says Cavazzini, the challenge of the green deputies is to show that "the future can only be claimed in full", without dichotomy between economy and sustainability.

"If we don't protect the climate, we also destroy our economy and the future of our planet", she points out.

Anna Cavazzini, member of the Greens/EFA Group in the European Parliament, meets with indigenous leader Puyr Tembe to discuss indigenous rights and deforestation, as they navigate on Tapajos river, near Santarem, in Para state, Brazil July 18, 2022. Greens/EFA Group in the European Parliament/Handout via REUTERS - via REUTERS

As the vice-chair of the delegation of relations with Brazil, what are your priorities for this year? The delegation will finally visit Brazil. It was very, very difficult in the last years because of the Covid crisis and then because of also political circumstances, but now we plan to have our first travel mission to Brazil in May, and I think this is really good because the most important thing is also to exchange with our parliamentarian counterparts and to see what are the debates in Brazil, what are the debates in Europe, how we can exchange.

In the last two years I personally focused very much on the fight against deforestation and supporting everyone in Brazil who was fighting for human rights and the rule of law and democracy and environment, of course. Now, the context likely changes a little bit with the new government, and I think there's much more avenues and areas for cooperation right now than before.

In this sense, minister Marina Silva (Environment) is committed to move forward the EU- Mercosur Trade Deal. What do you think is needed for that to happen? I think first and foremost the Brazilian government needs to reestablish all the environmental legislation and institutions that were dismantled by Bolsonaro, because I think without that we cannot have any trade agreement that spurs further deforestation on exports of agricultural goods, while we don't have a safety net that no more deforestation happens.

So I think this is the precondition for me to have any talks about any trade agreement and then I think parts of the trade agreement needs to be adjusted. It is a very old text from 20 years ago.

It has really non binding, suspended, sustainability standards that at the end will not have a great effect. So we need to adjust this and put sustainability and the fight against deforestation in the core of the agreement and only then can we advance, I think.

Could you, please, describe the current status of the implementation of the EU Green Deal? The Green Deal is the overarching goal to create a complete climate neutral economy in the European Union, the latest until 2050, but probably even faster.

And all the Green Deal consists of several pieces of legislation that makes sure that we reach this goal, for exampl,e when it comes to expanding renewable energies, more energy efficiency, but also circular economies or many, many pieces of legislations are being negotiated at the moment to this environment for reaching climate neutrality and really also keeping up our competitiveness, or even increasing it, because we think this is the future. The future can only be claimed in full.

What are your views on the implementation of the deal up to now? We Greens, unfortunately, are not in the majority in the European Parliament and a lot of the legislations that we are voting don't go far enough. So it is always very big political, ideological fights in the European Parliament but also in the Member States on how far we can go.

Let's say the right side of the Parliament says "OK, if we go too far, we destroy our economy". We say if we don't protect the climate, we also destroy our economy and the future of our planet. We say we are on the right track, we are going into the right direction, but we need to go faster.

You chair the committee on International Trade. How trade could contribute to the global effort against climate change and better protection of human rights? At the moment, how trade is organised, how the WTO (World Trade Organization) works and how a lot of bilateral trade agreements work, we see a lot of problems when it comes to causing climate change or when it comes to really protect human rights.

First of all, they should not impede local and national governments in deciding for climate change measures. Secondly, we need really enforceable sustainability standards and trade agreements, and sustainability should be mainstreamed in all trade agreements. And thirdly, I think we also need to look at the transport, because also how global transports works and shipping goods from one continent to the other all the time needs to be also made more sustainable.

What is your opinion on the current version of the EU regulation for deforestation free supply chains? I was negotiating this file in the Internal Market Committee and followed it very closely. I think this new regulation is really a kind of a revolution, if you think like that, because for the first time we have rules in the European Union that look at supply chains and will at the end prohibit imports from goods from deforested areas.

This is a big, big step forward in the global fight against deforestation and we and the European Parliament, especially with Greens, managed to strengthen the Commission proposal. We could not at the end get everything we wanted in the negotiations with the Member States. Nevertheless, I think it is really a very good regulation and will also hopefully have impacts on Brazil and help to combat deforestation in Brazil.

What comes next in relation to this process? The legislation is still to be voted officially in the Parliament because we had the so-called trilogue result in December. That is like the informal negotiation between Parliament and Council. And then there is a transposition period of, I think, 15,16 months and then it enters into force.

How could Brazil best engage in this process from now on? I think it is important that stakeholders in Brazil who export goods that are regulated by this new law, for example, soy or palm oil or cattle, really adapt and make sure that they're not deforesting much, but concentrate on areas that are already deforested or that are already like fields.

And if the stakeholders or operators make sure they plant these crops in fields and not deforest anymore, there will not be any change. So I think it is important to understand that the more Brazil doesn't deforest anymore the easier it is for economic exports in the end.

How to expand the adoption of these regulations beyond Europe to markets such as China, that are less engaged on their social and environmental agenda? It is very important to cooperate with other countries because, of course, there is the fear that companies then export their clean products to the EU market, but then the other products from areas that had been deforested recently, to China. And that's why it is really important to get countries like China on board.

There is already a lot of outreach. There are negotiations with China or Russia at the moment.

I think we also need really a global understanding on that. I think the COP agreement of December on the UN Biodiversity Conference is really helping because there we have a global agreement that all the countries also want to keep forests, and also China committed to that. So I think this international agreement clearly helps.

There is an ongoing discussion on the reform of the World Trade Organization. What do you think should happen in the organisation in order to strengthen its climate environmental agenda? The WTO has an exception clause, this famous Article 20 of the GATS (General Agreement on Trade in Services) agreement, where Member States of the WTO get some room for manoeuvre to put in place a social sustainable regulation to also then discriminate between products, and I think this article should be used more and should be strengthened.

I think we also need to really reform the WTO to make climate protection, climate in general, as the centre of the WTO, which is not yet the case. We know that any reform in the WTO is very cumbersome, takes a really long time.

Other Member States need to agree, but I think times have been changing since the 90s, since the WTO was founded and it's important to really include the Paris Agreement, the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) in the WTO as well.

Do you see any short term opportunities for that? Yes, I think discussions are, for example, going on, like more green goods agreements or to facilitate goods that are more climate friendly.

I mean this is more like a low hanging fruit because it's more about liberalisation, and that's always a little bit easier in the WTO. And I think other discussions are of course going on. You know, the fishery subsidies agreement had been a topic for years, of course, also very important issue. I think the longer structural reforms are more important, but are also more difficult.

European Union negotiators have recently reached agreement to reform the EU's emission trading scheme. What does it mean? It means that we are really getting the biggest climate legislation in the world, and this is why it is so important, of course, also because the European Union is one of the biggest emitters, also historically.

This is why the reform of this emissions trading scheme, that kicks out a lot of certificates, will make basically the CO2 price higher in Europe and thus automatically basically cap the CO2 emissions and hopefully brings us on the 1.5 degree path. So this law is, I think, a major, major step forward.

What should be prioritised in order to reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian gas and oil as soon as possible and promote a green and just energy transition considering the rise of the imports of Russian liquefied natural gas? Yes, the horrible war in the Ukraine has unfortunately shown what actually we as Greens had been saying for some years already: that it is dangerous, that we are really making ourselves so much dependent on authoritarian regimes, on our fossil fuels imports.

So fossil fuels in general make you dependent. while renewable energies are kind of like freedom energies. You can produce it at home, you can use your wind, your solar and so on. So we think that the acceleration of renewable energies, but also any legislation that helps us reducing the energy consumption and the resource use, like circular economy, will help us to get rid of Russian fossil fuel.

We have the EU Green Deal and we say that the Green Deal is really the answer to the Russian aggression in Ukraine that will make us more independent from authoritarian regimes in the future.

What is the Greens proposal in terms of combining the short term and long term priorities? As you said, like we won't have huge transformation yet from one day to the other, but in terms of the best combination of short term and long term measures, what is the proposal of the Greens Party? It is just very important that if at the moment we are replacing Russian gas from wherever that we don't lock ourselves in that we don't have contracts that go on for another 20 years, but that we have like short term structures.

For example, we also built very fast LNG (liquefied natural gas) terminals in Germany because we didn't have one, but it's also really important to make sure that they can be transformed as fast as possible to hydrogen import terminals.


Anna Cavazzini, 40

Member of the European Parliament, for the Green Party of Germany, since 2019, she is vice-chair of the delegation for relations with Brazil and chair of the committee on the internal market and consumer protection. She holds a master's degree in international relations from the Free University of Berlin. Previously, among other functions, she served as an advisor for the Sustainable Development Goals to the presidency of the UN General Assembly.


Planeta em Transe (Entranced Planet) is a series of reports and interviews with new players and experts on climate change in Brazil and around the world. This special coverage also focus on the responses to the climate crisis during the 2022 general elections in Brazil and at COP27 (UN Climate Conference in Egypt, in November 2022). This project is supported by the Open Society Foundations.