This Study provides an overview of recent developments at a European national level on EU Free Trade Agreements (FTAs), and in particular on the ongoing EU-Mercosur trade discussions, and aims to provide a first exploration of whether the changing political perspective in these countries on EU FTAs are a temporary trend or whether there is a window of opportunity to make EU FTAs more focused on sustainable development in the future.

Key messages

  • The recent changes in European political balances are key explanatory factors of European positions hostile to the EU-Mercosur agreement “as it stands”. The “greener” colour resulting from different election outcomes explains the majorities or coalitions opposing the agreement under negotiation on environmental terms. It also resulted in new sustainable development commitments by the European Commission through the European Green Deal, making it difficult for the European Commission to sign a FTA which would not explicitly improve signatory countries’ climate and environmental performance.
  • The agreement has brought together hitherto uncommon political interest groups, namely those 1) traditionally sensitive to agricultural problems, 2) those that are sensitive to environmental issues and 3) those that are concerned about the environmental consequences of FTAs.
  • This type of blockage could arise for a large part of future FTAs as long as third countries are not exemplary in environmental terms, and where the agreement provides for European imports of agricultural products.
  • In order to exercise a form of environmental diplomacy via access to the European market, the Union’s main effective international power, the EU must offer its partners agreements that are sufficiently attractive for their signature to be sought in the future.
  • Several avenues for the development of future FTAs can be envisaged, including the introduction of environmental clauses in the agreements themselves rather than by reference to multilateral environmental agreements, designing of investment agreements to promote sustainable development, and adopting internal European regulations to exclude, without discrimination, agricultural products resulting from the degradation of land and remarkable ecosystems.
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