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Lula berates the EU for making 'threats' in talks to unblock the Mercosur trade deal

Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva travelled to Brussels to attend the EU-CELAC summit.
Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva travelled to Brussels to attend the EU-CELAC summit. Copyright Geert Vanden Wijngaert/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
Copyright Geert Vanden Wijngaert/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
By Isabel Marques da SilvaJorge Liboreiro
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Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva criticised the European Union for making environmental demands during negotiations of a free trade deal.

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A series of pre-ratification requirements to comply with the Paris Agreement, protect biodiversity and uphold labour standards were put forward in a letter that the European Commission sent earlier this year to the four countries that make up the Mercosur group: Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.

The move from Brussels was meant to build upon the political momentum injected by Lula's electoral victory and break the impasse of the long-stalled EU-Mercosur free trade deal. The mammoth agreement has been more than 20 years in the making and still faces resistance from some European governments, like France, Austria and Ireland, who have voiced concerns about the deforestation in the Amazon rainforest and the competition posed by low-cost agricultural products made in Latin America.

"Europe played an aggressive card. The letter that Europe wrote to Mercosur was a letter that threatened punishment if we didn't meet certain environmental requirements," Lula said on Wednesday morning, during a press conference.

"Two strategic partners do not discuss threats. We discuss proposals."

The president insisted his country did not need to prove its green credentials to Brussels, as Brazil already obtains more than 80% of its electricity production from renewable sources, a rate that most European states still have a long way to go to attain.

"We do not accept the additional letter from the European Union. It is impossible to conceive among historical partners like us that someone would write such a threatening letter," Lula told reporters.

"We don't have a problem. We are preparing a reply and we think the European Union will calmly agree with our response. I think the additional European letter was possibly the work of someone who thought that by putting pressure on us, we would give in."

Lula said the counterproposal drafted by his government would be sent to Brussels in "two or three weeks" once Mercosur approves the text.

"You take a country like France," the president went on, expanding on his argument.

"France is very keen on protecting its agricultural products, its small and medium-sized farmlands, its poultry, its vegetables, its cheeses, its milk and its wines. Just as France has the sovereign right to defend its productive heritage tooth and nail, we must defend ours too. The richness of negotiation is that someone has to give in."

The European Commission did not immediately reply to a request for comment. Its president, Ursula von der Leyen, has vowed to wrap up the agreement before the end of the year, a timeline that Lula also shares.

"I'm very optimistic," the Brazilian leader said. "For the first time, I'm very optimistic that we're going to conclude this deal this year."

The aggressor and the aggressed

Lula's comments follow a two-day summit in Brussels between the 27 members of the European Union and the 33 members of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), the first of its kind in eight years.

"Brazil is regaining the pleasure of doing international politics. Brazil is returning to its leading role," Lula said, calling the meeting "really successful" and "extraordinary."

The summit touched upon a wide array of topics, such as sustainable development, critical raw materials, the fight against climate change, regional security, labour rights and gender equality. Russia's invasion of Ukraine also made it into the discussions but rather than bringing the two sides closer together, the issue did nothing but expose the political divide between the Northern and the Southern Hemisphere.

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In the days leading up to the summit, European diplomats pushed for a strong language of condemnation against the Kremlin's war of aggression, something that certain Latin American countries viewed with scepticism owing to their trade ties with Russia and their determination to maintain an independent foreign policy.

After frantic hours of negotiations, the two sides settled on two paragraphs that express "deep concern on the ongoing war against Ukraine" and call for a "just and sustainable peace."

Russia, the aggressor, is not mentioned by name at any point.

Despite the mildness of the language, Nicaragua, one of the few allies that Moscow has left on the global stage, refused to endorse the joint conclusions.

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"We were discussing the vision of 60 countries. And, therefore, people need to understand that not everybody is going to agree with everybody, not everybody has the hurry, the same vision about things," Lula said. "I think the Ukraine meeting was held at the right time. There was nothing we didn't already know."

Lula, whose explosive comments on the invasion had previously caused consternation among Western allies, said the international community needed to "convince Russia and Ukraine that peace is the best way forward," a comment that appeared to put both warring parties on the same level.

"For now, neither (Volodymyr) Zelenskyy nor (Vladimir) Putin wants to talk about peace because each thinks he will win. But we see some fatigue: the world is getting tired of this war," Lula said. "Then the time will come when there will be peace and there will have to be a group of countries able to talk to Russia and Ukraine."

Asked about if the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukrainian territory should be a precondition for peace talks, Lula gave yet another ambivalent answer.

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"The withdrawal is part of the peace accord," he said, without explicitly referring to the Russian army. "The condicio sine qua non to talk about peace is to stop the war. As long as people are firing shots, there will be no talks. And that's what's happening."

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