The European Commission should have completed an updated sustainability impact assessment (SIA) before the EU-Mercosur trade deal was agreed, an inquiry by European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly has found.

The Ombudsman’s inquiry followed a complaint by five civil society organisations, which were concerned that the Commission conducted the trade negotiations without an up-to-date assessment of its potential economic, social, human rights and environmental impact.

“The EU-Mercosur trade deal could have profound implications, positive and negative, for both sides. The European Commission should have been in a position to demonstrate that it had taken the potential impact on the environment and other issues fully into account before the deal was reached.

The Amazon river in Brazil, where rainforest is being pulled down to create more farmland.

“Not finalising the necessary assessment leaves the EU open to criticism that it is not taking seriously all concerns raised and this may affect how the deal is perceived at a point when it needs to be ratified by the European Parliament and in all member states,” said the Ombudsman.

O’Reilly urged that in future trade negotiations, such assessments be finished ahead of the final agreement.

“The EU projects its values through its trade deals. Concluding a trade agreement before its potential impact has been fully assessed risks undermining those values and the public’s ability to debate the merits of the deal. It also risks weakening European and national parliaments’ ability to comprehensively debate the trade agreement,” said Ms O’Reilly.

An agreement on the EU-Mercosur trade deal was reached by the negotiators in June 2019. However, neither the final assessment, the Commission’s formal response to it, nor the last round of stakeholder consultations were taken into account in the negotiations.

The Ombudsman found that it was the Commission’s responsibility to ensure the assessment was finalised in good time and that its failure to do so was maladministration.

EU playing ‘fast and loose’ with its own rules – IFA

IFA president Tim Cullinan said it was astonishing that the European Commission would attempt to proceed with a Mercosur deal without a full assessment of it.

“The Ombudsman is correct when she says that EU projects its values through its trade deals,” he said.

Cullinan said there was an onus on the Commission to publish the Sustainability Impact Assessment (SIA) without delay.

“The question arises now as to what is in the SIA and what was the motivation for failing to complete it. Farmers will be curious as to why the Mercosur trade deal is the only time this has happened,” he said.

IFA members protest at the EU Commission offices in Dublin in 2019, over the double standards of the Commission in their reckless pursuit of a ‘Sell Out’ trade deal with the Mercosur countries. \ Finbarr O'Rourke

The IFA president said the approach of the Commission undermines its credibility to act on behalf of member states.

“The Commission’s stance on Mercosur is at odds with its other policies on Farm to Fork and the Green Deal. Agreeing to extra beef imports while imposing greater restrictions on European and Irish farmers is deeply contradictory,” he said.