Members of the European Parliament give the green light

Members of the European Parliament give the green light

By including safeguards, can a free trade agreement (FTA) with a country 20,000 kilometers away position itself as an environmental and social model? Or do they fundamentally conflict with climate commitments? Finally, does influence in a strategic geographic area, with a country with shared values, necessarily entail an economic agreement?

These may sound like essay topics. But in fact, MEPs had to answer this kind of question by speaking publicly, during the plenary session in Strasbourg, Wednesday 22 November 2023, about the free trade agreement signed between the European Union and New Zealand. Unsurprisingly, the supporters largely won (524 votes against, 85 against, 21 abstentions).

Read also: Australia and Mercosur… What free trade agreements does Europe want to negotiate and which ones are still being used for?

“Between land ships and container ships, we will always choose land.”

Even the European Greens (Green Group/European Free Alliance) preferred to see the glass as half full, much to the chagrin of French environmentalists. They demand that all future free trade agreements now respect the same standards, especially those with Australia and Mercosur (although they are already deadlocked), or with India and Indonesia which are also in the pipeline. Some rare voices, especially French, spoke against the text. “We note the progress made by comparing this treaty with previous treaties […] But this is not enough “, Explained Raphael Glucksmann, General Place MEP. Therefore, the French delegation from the social and environmental left voted against the decision, but remained in the minority within the group of socialists and democrats.

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Also among those opposed is Manon Aubry, a member of the European Parliament for the France Insomez party. Before voting, she said: “We denounce the insanity of this agreement.”. a “Environmental madness”because it involves bringing products from the other side of the planet that the European Union already produces on its territory, and “Social madness for our farmers, while milk producers in France, for example, cannot live from it.”.

After the Covid crisis, which may have inspired a reshuffling of the cards, I talked about A “The journey forward” He supported his statements with a slogan that was repeated in one form or another during the discussions in the midterm session, “Between land ships and container ships, we will always choose land.”.

30% increase in trade

The European Union is now New Zealand’s third largest trading partner. Trade in goods has continued to increase in recent years, reaching nearly 9.1 billion euros in 2022. The impact study predicts that with the entry into force of the agreement, the increase could reach 30%.

By removing tariffs on key EU exports to New Zealand, such as pork, wine, sparkling wine, chocolate, confectionery and biscuits, the Commission plans to save companies money for European authorities of around €140 million per year, starting from the first year of implementation. It is counting on increasing the Union’s exports, which could increase by up to 4.5 billion euros annually. The partisans of the text also wanted to accept the protection against 2,000 vins and spirits of the UE, including the prosecco or champagne, as well as 163 traditional European products (protection applications), as well as the feta and count.

Read also: Europe-New Zealand trade agreement: undermining European livestock farming?

What gets people frustrated is primarily the issue of imports from New Zealand, a country with a population of five million but almost as many dairy cows and five times as many sheep. Because the agreement stipulates the complete cancellation of customs duties on many products such as kiwi, apples, onions, and honey, and this is without limits. Foods that are not very strange. Even for kiwi fruit, France, for example, is today the sixth largest producer in the world and the thirdH European product.

The text also stipulates quotas for beef (10,000 tons), sheep meat (38,000 tons), butter (15,000 tons), cheese (25,000 tons), and powdered milk (15,000 tons). The value of New Zealand’s exports to the EU could therefore increase by €1 billion annually by 2035, across all sectors combined. “How can we support ever-lower agricultural prices? How can we support increased trade with the other side of our burning planet?”He challenged the Farmers’ Union in a press statement.

“We are once again importing agriculture that neither farmers nor consumers wantFNSEA and Young Farmers were alerted, in the summer of 2022 when the agreement was announced. Facing a country whose hyper-competitive agricultural production represents 80% of the country’s total exports, what gains could the European Union achieve on the agricultural level? What will be the health and environmental gains? New Zealand continues to use products such as atrazine that are banned in Europe. It is essential that the EU applies norms of reciprocity and, through strict border controls, the chapter on sustainable development is not just a smokescreen! »

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The main criterion for future free trade agreements?

On paper, this agreement was actually intended to be a model for what Europe should do in the future with regard to free trade agreements. It was alternately presented during discussions as the most “ambitious” or most “progressive” of all. “This is the most recent agreement we have concluded as the European Union.”Thus defended on the bicycle Daniel Caspary, German Member of the European Parliament (PPE Group) of the European Parliament

True, it includes a chapter specifically devoted to sustainable food systems, an article on trade and gender equality as well as provisions on trade reform and fossil fuel subsidies… Above all, in the event of serious violations of the Fundamental Labor Principles (ILO Rules) or the Paris Agreement It stipulates penalties. But only as a last resort. Its opponents fear that the controls will leave something to be desired, and that the sanctions will ultimately not be implemented at all.

In any case, after the green light from members of the European Parliament, nothing should prevent its rapid entry into force. Member states should verify its authenticity next Monday. After final ratification by New Zealand, it could be implemented from mid-2024.

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