The EU-Mercosur trade deal is close to the finishing line and the final breakthrough might still come by the end of the year. This trade agreement between the EU and the four Mercosur Members – Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay – would be the largest bilateral trade deal the EU has ever brokered. The deal would indeed be unprecedented in many respects: It would be the first time that the economies of Mercosur open up to a major trading block and also by far the largest deal between the EU and emerging economies.

Now is a unique window of opportunity and there is strong political will on the side of the Mercosur countries to get the deal finalised. This would not only open up a huge market for EU products and services, but also send another strong signal, after the successful trade negotiations with Japan earlier this year, that the EU is seizing its role as the world’s foremost trading power.

However, there still remain some stumbling blocks that could put the deal at risk. Not surprisingly, the agriculture sector is the main point of contention as the Mercosur countries are very competitive in products such as sugar and ethanol, in which the EU has major defensive interests.

But trade is not a zero sum game and its benefits cannot be measured by the increase of exports alone. Increased access to Brazilian sugarcane products through the Mercosur deal is an example where the benefits for EU industry go far beyond what the trade balance indicates. Indeed, as René Van Sloten, Executive Director Industrial Policy at Cefic, the European Chemical Industry Council, said: “including sugar and ethanol into the Mercosur trade deal would offer the possibility for a win-win outcome for both sides.”

So how could EU industry benefit from increased access to raw sugarcane products?

Sugar and ethanol are important sustainable feedstocks for the European chemical industry. Products such as plastics, paint and coatings all require feedstock which today is mainly sourced from fossil fuels, but that could be replaced by ethanol. Also sugar is a key ingredient for the bio-industry, being indispensable for biotechnological processes. Further, sugarcane ethanol has tremendous potential to decarbonise the transportation sector, which currently account for almost a quarter of EU GHG emissions. Including sugar and ethanol into the deal would help EU industry getting the right quality at a fair price. According to René van Sloten, EU industry has to endure 40-60% extra costs for ethanol because of import tariffs, in contrast fossil fuel ethanol can enter the EU without any tariff.

Consequently the EU chemical industry could produce at lower costs which would make it more competitive. This would also have a domino effect down the supply chain, making products cheaper for business and consumers.

Brazilian sugarcane is also among the most sustainable renewable feedstocks with the highest greenhouse gas (GHG) saving potential. Gaining access to this feedstock would not only help European industry to lower its GHG emissions but also to boost the bio-based industry. This industry has an enormous potential to contribute to the circular economy with new products and solutions. Gaining better access to renewable feedstock would help industry to increase its investments in bio-based production plants in Europe, which in turn would increase demand for bioethanol also to the benefit of European producers.

Europe should take these benefits into account that the inclusion of sugarcane products into the trade deal can bring and not only look at the defensive interests of the EU agriculture sector.

The EU-Mercosur trade deal is a once in a generation opportunity, don’t let it slip away. Sweeten the deal!

Géraldine Kutas

Géraldine Kutas

A seasoned professional specializing in international trade policy, Géraldine Kutas leverages over a decade of experience to strengthen UNICA’s activities across the European Union, the United States and Asia. She has a deep expertise in biofuels and agricultural policies, coupled with extensive exposure to multilateral and regional trade negotiations in agriculture. Ms. Kutas is the author and co-author of several international publications on these topics.

Before joining UNICA, she was a researcher and a professor at the Groupe d’Economie Mondiale at Sciences Po(GEM), Paris, and coordinator of the European Biofuels Policy research programme (EBP). Ms. Kutas has also worked as a consultant at the Inter-American Bank of Development and for agro-business firms.

Ms. Kutas has a Ph.D. in International Economics from the Institut d’Etudes Poliques de Paris and a Master degree in Latin American Studies from Georgetown University, Washington DC.