Minister replies to concerns over EU-Mercosur agreement
Brazil – EU-Mercosur/Iran/bilateral relations – Interview given by M. Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, to the Brazilian daily newspaper Folha de São Paulo
São Paulo, 27 July 2019
Q. – Just after the conclusion of the EU-Mercosur agreement was announced, you said that taking into account the red lines France set in advance required deeds, not just words. Have you received any concrete commitments since then? What are they?
THE MINISTER – On this important issue, France’s approach is clear. We’re taking the time to conduct a full, independent and transparent national assessment of the agreement, and this will enable us to determine the French authorities’ position. Our main points of vigilance are known: effective implementation of the Paris Agreement, compliance with our environmental and health standards, and the protection of sensitive agricultural industries.
You mention deeds: beyond the text of the agreement, we will indeed have to take a position on the basis of concrete actions and the results obtained. In this respect, the commitments made by the Mercosur countries at the G20 summit, in conjunction with the conclusion of the agreement, are positive signals, particularly that of President Bolsonaro regarding the fight against climate change and in favour of biodiversity. These are major challenges on which there will be important meetings in the coming months – beginning with COP25 in Santiago, Chile, in a few months’ time – and to which we’ll pay especially close attention. I’ll be discussing this very freely with my counterpart, Ernesto Araújo.
Q. – Last Friday, President Jair Bolsonaro disputed the deforestation statistics in the Amazon region provided by a renowned national institute. Two days earlier, the Environment Minister had held a meeting with sawmill owners. To what extent could these kinds of statements and gestures jeopardize the ratification of the agreement?
THE MINISTER – We’re Cartesians and so I’d like to stick to the facts. The first thing I see is that President Bolsonaro has decided Brazil will remain in the Paris Agreement. We’ve taken note of this, it’s an important decision which we’ve welcomed. And it won’t have escaped anyone that, in its first national contribution under the Paris Agreement, Brazil pledged to restore and replant 12 million hectares of forest by 2030. We’ll be paying very close attention to the actual implementation of the agreement.
The second thing is the data published recently about deforestation in the Amazon region. It’s worrying information if it’s confirmed, because everyone knows how important the Amazonian ecosystem is to the fight against climate change.
Q. – How does France intend to reduce resistance to, indeed rejection of the agreement by our farmers, who are highlighting the approval of 240 pesticides by the new Brazilian government and the lower food safety standards in South America?
THE MINISTER – As I’ve said, France pays special attention to protecting health standards. However, we mustn’t play on people’s fears: we already trade agricultural goods with Mercosur, and the Mercosur products we import into the European Union already have to comply with environmental and health standards. These standards are non-negotiable, and we must ensure that the EU and Mercosur’s auditing and monitoring procedures – which, incidentally, the draft agreement aims to facilitate – will indeed enable us to guarantee compliance with them. This will be one of the priority aspects of the assessment of the agreement that we’re launching nationally.
Brazil and France share the characteristic of being two agricultural nations, so it’s natural for the sensitivities of the sector to be expressed in France (as in Europe) following the conclusion of the EU-Mercosur agreement. So we’re going to assess, vigilantly and transparently, the agreement’s impact on sensitive agricultural industries like beef, poultry and sugar, for which we demanded special protections in the negotiations. I also want to remind you that the draft agreement opens up opportunities for our agricultural producers, particularly in the sectors of wines and spirits and dairy products.
Q. – Isn’t it paradoxical to advocate an ambitious environmental policy on the French and European fronts, while reaching an agreement with a bloc whose main member is clearly moving in the other direction?
THE MINISTER – Let’s stick to the facts, not necessarily remarks aimed at satisfying certain interests. Brazil’s repeated confirmation that it’s staying in the Paris Agreement on the climate is an important signal that we wanted to encourage. We’re going to pay special attention to the agreement’s impact on the environment. I strongly believe that in order for an agreement with Mercosur to be a good agreement, it must also increase the level of our requirements for fighting climate change and protecting biodiversity and social rights.
In any case, it seems to me essential for France and Europe to continue talking about environmental and climate issues with Brazil, which for a long time has been a major sustainable development partner at global level.
And the fight against global warming and in favour of countries’ sustainable development is nothing without the involvement of local governments. This is especially true in Brazil’s case. France, with the agreement of the federal government, is thus supporting active efforts by the federal states and municipalities to implement the Sustainable Development Goals, in Curitiba and São Paulo and with the recently-created consortium for sustainable development in the north-east.
Q. – How long must we wait before France ratifies the agreement? One year? More?
THE MINISTER – Because of its content, which covers the areas of responsibility not only of the European Union but also of the member states, the agreement will indeed be submitted for ratification by all the European Union member states, including by the French Parliament. But it will first have to be the focus of a debate and a formal vote at the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament, following a legal review. This will undeniably be quite a lengthy process, and we don’t anticipate having to take any formal position at the Council before the end of 2020.
Q. – To what extent did the imminence of Brexit and the tension between the United States and China prompt a speeding-up of negotiations on the European side?
THE MINISTER – We have to be clear-sighted: in a world marked by growing trade tensions and a questioning of multilateralism, trade agreements can provide a sort of safety net for our economies and ensure that some of our trade will not only be facilitated but also continue to be regulated by law – and not the law of the jungle.
Having said that, the negotiations had begun nearly 20 years earlier. I don’t think the negotiators succumbed to convenience or haste, and I think they were keen to fulfil the mandate governments had entrusted them with. As I’ve said, that’s what we’re now going to verify by taking the time to judge on the basis of the facts.
Q. – After meeting you in Paris, your Brazilian counterpart, Ernesto Araújo, said visits by French environmental and human rights experts to Brazil would be organized in order to change “erroneous perceptions” of the country. What’s the state of this plan?
THE MINISTER – I’m convinced that exchanges between experts from our two countries are indeed important, and in every area. In the environmental field, for example, Ernesto Araújo and I discussed in Paris the idea of setting up a working group on the environment, and I’d like this plan to be implemented quickly.
Q. – Several researchers and members of social movements are condemning human rights violations under Bolsonaro’s leadership. A few have even moved to France after being subjected to threats and intimidation. How is Emmanuel Macron’s government monitoring this situation?
THE MINISTER – In the message of congratulations he sent to President Bolsonaro, the French President reiterated how much importance he attaches to promoting human rights. It’s an important priority for French diplomacy, and we obviously hold stringent dialogue on the issue, while respecting the sovereignty of the countries we talk about it to. During my stay in Brazil I’ll also be meeting voluntary organizations and civil society representatives, as I do almost systematically when I travel abroad. You have to make practical judgments, and I’ve seen Brazil’s institutions do indeed protect basic freedoms, as with the Supreme Court’s decision on 13 June to criminalize acts of homophobia and transphobia.
Q. – To what extent is the oil-tanker crisis in the Gulf a product of the American withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, still supported by Paris, Berlin and London? What outcome do you envisage, with a view to calming the tension of recent days?
THE MINISTER – France is very much involved in seeking the parameters of a de-escalation with Iran. There are several elements to the situation: the fact that Iran recently exceeded two limits in the Vienna nuclear agreement; actions in the Gulf like the recent seizure of the British ship Stena Impero, which contribute to the escalation; and maximum pressure from the United States, which is also fuelling it by pushing Iran into a bad response to Washington’s regrettable decision to withdraw from the agreement. For several weeks we’ve been working to put a stop to this escalation. The dialogue is continuing, but we expect Iran to resume compliance with the Vienna agreement and make the necessary gestures to contribute to a de-escalation.
Q. – What are the current priority projects for Franco-Brazilian cooperation?
THE MINISTER – There are many projects. Last year we celebrated the 10th anniversary of the strategic partnership that has united us since 2008. We’re picking up the thread today on new foundations, following the elections of the French President in 2017 and the Brazilian President in 2018. For this visit to Brazil – the first by a French foreign minister for more than four years – I’m bringing a twofold message.
Our wish first of all is to deepen the strategic partnership in every area. Defence, which is central to the one signed in 2008, will continue to be a flagship aspect of this. We also want to strengthen even further our already substantive economic and trade relations. France is a major investor in Brazil. Proof of this is the latest move by Engie, with the purchase of TAG for more than $8 billion – with all the promise the project brings for the energy transition in the north-east – and the 1,000 French businesses that have chosen Brazil, in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and elsewhere. I haven’t forgotten, either, that we share a common border, with French Guiana. We must continue to increase the positive spin-offs from this on both sides of the border.
At the same time, because our strategic partnership has enabled us to build mutual trust, we can talk together straightforwardly and completely frankly about every subject, in particular the most complex and sensitive issues I talked to you about: trade issues, with the EU-Mercosur agreement, sustainable development and the fight against climate change. I’d like us to move forward on both fronts of a partnership which I’m making a priority of my action in South America./.