Transparency requested in the negotiations between Mercosur and EFTA!

Today, a new round of negotiation of the free-trade agreement between Mercosur (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay) and EFTA (Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein) kicks off in Geneva. The undersigned NGOs ask State parties to allow the transparency of negotiations and to carry out a sustainability impact assessment.

The negotiations of a free-trade agreement between the EFTA countries, including Switzerland, and those of Mercosur have started in June 2017 with the greatest opacity. Negotiating texts are not public and citizens, parliamentarians and civil society do not know what their governments are negotiating. Most of the time, they don’t even know that these negotiations take place. Yet, this agreement could have a huge impact on large sectors of the population.

Alliance Sud, Public Eye, Swissaid, the Fédération romande des consommateurs and Friends of the Earth Uruguay, request negotiating partners to:

- Communicate regularly on the state of the negotiations. The sectors of the population that are potentially most impacted must be consulted on the content of the agreement.

- Carry out a sustainability and human rights impact assessment and set up a process to assess the economic impact of the agreement before the conclusion of the negotiations, as requested, for example in Switzerland, by a parliamentary commission for all free trade agreements. Such a study would give a view of the winners and losers and allow holding a public debate. Indeed, even though we don’t know the negotiating texts, we know by experience that this kind of agreements go far beyond trade issues and that several sectors could be affected, such as:

  • Agriculture: this agreement is likely to benefit especially large agro-industrial corporations of Mercosur countries and worsen the existing problems faced by these countries in terms of deforestation, expulsion of small farmers and loss of food sovereignty, strengthening even further an export-oriented agricultural model. In the EFTA countries, farmers would also be penalised by imports of meat, soya, sugar at very low prices and responding to lower phytosanitary standards than the local ones. Furthermore, strengthening intellectual property rights would risk privatizing seeds, thereby making it much more difficult for farmers to exchange and commercialise them.
  • Health: strengthening intellectual property rights on medicines would make the sale of generic drugs more difficult and expensive in Mercosur countries.
  • Productive development: small and medium-sized enterprises in Mercosur countries may be penalised by industrial imports from EFTA countries, which would further increase unemployment and the social crisis.
  • Public procurement: in Mercosur countries, the opening up of public procurement and state-owned enterprises to foreign competition will make it more difficult to maintain public policies focused on development needs.
  • Consumers : the benefits of the agreement for the consumers have yet to be proved, both in terms of prices and of quality of the imported commodities. Without control mechanisms, food of questionable quality may reach their plates more easily. To ensure full transparency, issues such as food safety (e.g. disinfection of meat or cases of rotten meat), traceability (follow-up of cloned animals and their offspring), labeling (origin) and the use of growth stimulators forbidden in Switzerland must be taken into account. The terms of the agreement must ensure the respect of consumers' expectations regarding environmental impact, renunciation of fodder coming from genetically modified plants (e.g. GMO soya), and animal welfare. In addition, they must not endanger local agriculture so that the consumers can still have access to local products.

For more information:

  • Isolda Agazzi, Alliance Sud, + 41 79 434 45 60
  • Laurianne Altwegg, Fédération romande des consommateurs, +41 21 331 00 90
  • Christine Badertscher, SWISSAID, +41 79 583 69 03
  • Thomas Braunschweig, Public Eye, , + 41 44 2 777 911
  • Alberto Villareal, Amigos de la Tierra Uruguay, , mobile: + 598 98 556 360