The EU and US Imperialism in Latin America. An interview with Mick Wallace MEP.

The MEP for Ireland South, Mick Wallace, has become a powerful voice for the left in the European Parliament. He is known for pointing out the hypocrisy of the bloc’s foreign policy and defying the establishment from the parliament floor. One of these instances was when he famously denounced the January 2019 coup attempt in Venezuela, and its self-declared interim president Juan Guaidó as “an unelected gobshite”.

In a exclusive interview for Brasil Wire, Wallace spoke about something that has been a topic of discussion between South America and Europe: The Free Trade Agreement between the European Union and Mercosur.

By Nathalia Urban

The European Parliament recently decided to confirm the wording of its resolution on foreign and security policy for this year.  It included a special mention of the negotiations on the European Union’s Free Trade Agreement with Mercosur.

How do you see this agreement between the European Union and Mercosur?

I think there’s a good chance that will never happen. And there’s a lot of opposition from us. Mostly on environmental grounds. I don’t know how much you follow the environmental stuff in the parliament, but, they have introduced an agreed deal. They’ve introduced a farm to farm strategy. They have introduced a biodiversity strategy. Now none of these are legislation yet, but it will become part of legislation in time and that will happen. And the Mercosur deal is not compliant with these environmental measures, impossible. It’s like putting a square peg into a round hole. So, while the EU and most Western countries have done these kinds of trade deals forever, and totally ignore a lot of different issues, not just the environment, but also, ignoring the fact that very often these trade deals are not necessarily good.

For example, in the Mercosur deal, farm feeding is a big issue, right? And it would mean that it would be easier for Mercosur countries to sell more feed to the Europeans. They’d be able to sell them more meat. And in return, the Germans would have an easier time selling machinery cars in particular, to the Mercosur countries. A lot of the time, for example, around food, on food production we just signed a deal last year, as well as over 12 months ago with Vietnam, a trade deal. Now I just have no problem with the government in Vietnam, right. But I voted against the trade deal because, and I see isn’t going to do any good for the farmers in Vietnam, and that’s going to do no good for the farmers in Europe.

It’s a lot of these trade deals, all the favor is the middleman, the guys who move, all these products and the small farmer gets shafted on both ends. I would say much the same with Mercosur, but that never bothered the EU. So they’ve been able to ignore the social dimension and the social damage that our trades deal do. But this is different, right. Environment is the biggest game in town in Europe now, and the challenges of dealing with our environmental problems. And it isn’t enough to just deal with that in Europe. If we, for example, continue to buy and sell and do deals with countries in Africa or South America, and ignore the environmental damage by such deals. For example, Mercosur, whether people like it or not, is guaranteed to lead to further deforestation, deforestation and biodiversity is linked to and by diversity loss and biodiversity loss, and is at the heart of the present pandemic. And it’s where we get our viruses from, so we’re all worried about the pandemic. We’re all worried about it, but yet we had been too slow to address biodiversity loss. So the pressure will mount on this issue. And I don’t think Mercosur, are we getting across the line at the end of the day? If it does, it is, it will, once again be a terrible hypocrisy and double speak, from the European Union.

Don’t you think that an agreement with Mercosur would end up giving strength to the bloc’s, totalitarian neoliberals, like Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil because he spoke about it several times, and of course we know that there’s an environmental concern from members of the EU.

Yeah. I mean, Bolsonaro is a far right wing individual who doesn’t care about the lives of people. He doesn’t care about the environment. I mean, he’s really a bit of a thug and it’s unfortunate that the Europeans even do business with him, but that’s what they do. The Europeans are no angels, business is business to these people. And it’s the reason that we have so much poverty in the world today. I mean, there’s 4.6 billion people, about half the world’s population living on less than $5 a day. And the reason that’s happening is because of the policies of the developed world. We are in straining poverty in other countries and doing business with the likes of Bolsonaro, it’s nothing new, for the European countries or the Americans or any of them, they put business before the answers of the people.

And that’s why we have 4.6 billion people living on less than $5 a day and are food insecure because of our policies. Likewise, I have no doubt that they will continue to trade with Bolsonaro or anyone else that controls Brazil because Brazil is a big player and they seek laws of business opportunities for themselves, in respect of how bad Bolsonaro is. Listen, the EU does business with Saudi Arabia and UAE, all the time, there’ve been causing genocide in Yemen, but it doesn’t matter that doesn’t bother them as long as there’s real money to be made. It was just seeing only yesterday, the British government has suspended aid to Yemen, but they have agreed to continue to export arms to Saudi Arabia, despite the fact that they are causing the starvation of millions in Yemen today, these governments don’t care about things like that.

I mean, you’d wonder if someone came from Mars and I see the West and look as to what’s really happening in the world. I mean, and I would say, I couldn’t believe how badly, the world is wrong and unfair. And the matter of the fact that governments are prepared to facilitate the the interests of big business at the expense of the people. So much of the time, it’s just shocking. And it’s immoral, the system is rotten to the core. And that’s very sad, but I mean, is it going to change?

Listen there’s always hope and, Bolsonaro won’t be in power in Brazil forever either. If the country has fair elections – I mean, obviously if there was, he wouldn’t have got into power, things were unfair in the first place, but I don’t think he’s going to be around forever

Many social movements, especially in Brazil are pressing for the European union to sanction, both Bolsonaro and Brazil, and to not ratify the agreement. Do you think that their pressure will be taken into account like the indigenous movements and other organisations that are always pleading to the EU on things like that?

No, I don’t. don’t think they will listen to these movements and these peoples, indigenous communities in Brazil, they would say that “we think that by having trade with Brazil , we can put pressure on the Brazilian government to behave better.” That’s like saying that we’re doing more business with Saudi Arabia and maybe they’ll cut less heads off next month because they cut off more than 30 heads a month in Saudi Arabia. EU gives out about human rights issues in countries that don’t agree with the US in every factor, like, for example, they’re never tired of giving out about, human rights in China, but they don’t care about human rights in Saudi Arabia, they give out about human rights in Iran, but, they have no problem with human rights and violations committed by Ivan Duque in Colombia – his record at the present is atrocious, but they just turn a blind eye towards it, they use human rights as a weapon against countries. They don’t address human rights issues in a genuine, honest fashion. And that’s unfortunate.

Recently the Eu has extended the sanctions on Venezuela, and has summoned the EU ambassador to Cuba, the Spanish Alberto Navarro, to explain the letter he sent to the US president, Joe Biden, asking him to lift the economic embargo on the island. Would you say the EU foreign policy for América Latina is getting more aggressive?

Sanctions have been used more, than ever before. And, it’s a big problem for a lot of countries. Now, you can destroy a country with sanctions easier than you can with bombs and sanctions have become the new favorite tool of the Americans. It’s financial terrorism that they engage in. And there’s, unfortunately, the EU is still wedded to the US agenda. They  still support US imperialism worldwide, and it doesn’t matter how bad it is. And unfortunately, business interests are dominating. We only do human rights to kick others around. We actually, don’t actually really respect human rights violations and we don’t deal with them properly. And we don’t, we pretend to, if any country misbehaves, uh, we get them to behave better by using sanctions. That is dishonest, it’s not a genuine approach.

There’s a very good report by the UN only there about two weeks ago about Venezuela. I spoke about it here in the parliament last week, and they highlighted the fact that the sanctions against Venezuela have resulted in the deaths of many people. They are making life very difficult for a lot of people. They are having far less impact on government officials or members of the government than it does actually on the ordinary people, the EU and the us, the love to talk about targeted sanctions, other sanctions don’t do what it says they hurt people more than the hurt, the individuals that the US and the EU pretend to be targeting, it’s got even more worrying aspect of this is that 95%, maybe more of these sanctions are actually illegal. They’re against international law. All sanctions are really, unless they get a resolution from the United Nations, none of these sanctions are getting this resolution. These are all illegal, this is the US and the EU ignoring international law with these sanctions. And yes, your question is the EU is getting more aggressive in terms of their use of sanctions, I would say yes. Now you’ll probably see just before Biden came into power, there was negotiations between the EU and China about a new deal around investment, it was an opportunity to increase business from both sides. Germany drove the deal at European level. Germany runs Europe anyway, the interest of Germany and everyone else comes after that. But Germany wants the deal, the talk about human rights issues with China, but Germany wouldn’t want to put sanctions against China, China is Germany’s biggest trading partner.

China is the EU biggest trading partner. We give out by Human rights in China, but that’s, as far as we go, those sanctions we’re talking about because there’s money at stake. And that’s what their number one is, now Venezuela, the EU doesn’t need to have strong financial ties with Venezuela. Neither does the US for what the US needs access to Venezuela’s resources so that they can rob them lately. Like they’ve been doing across the world for as long as we can remember. I mean the United States of America as an entity started as a colonial project. And it wiped out the indigenous people of North America. So the European settlers could take the language. America has never stopped being a colonial project. It has been a colonial project, obviously it’s probably most obvious in Latin America because they’re perceived as their back yard.

And it was their sphere of influence. But the US treatment of Venezuela, which is horrific and inhumane and sadly supported by the EU is only about gathering access to Venezuela’s mineral wells. So there’s a very good can gathered for themselves. And sadly, the EU is supporting them. And yes, as of now, I would agree that the EU is using sanctions a bit stronger than it was now. Will this continue? Not necessarily. So, whereas the Americans keep using the sanctions as strongly as they have been doing, I would say definitely. Yes, uh, for, for the foreseeable future. Anyway, I don’t see them changing their position. it’s a whole new, different debate and we can get into another time.

I don’t believe it’s something that’s going to last forever. I don’t think the EU will continue to blindly support what the US does. I don’t think for example… I mean, Israel couldn’t do what it does to the Palestinians without us support and, their involvement. But likewise, the us would be under pressure to give quite such a incredible support to Israel, to carry out what is really a genocide against the people of Palestine have the complicity of the EU. Now, their support, sometimes their silence, but sometimes it’s just racist, the support for the Israeli administration. But in a way, I don’t think this will continue without the support of the EU. And I don’t think the EU is going to continue to allow this to happen. I’m not saying it’s going to change this year, but the EU does represent the interest and the concerns of the people of Europe, Europe has over 450 million people living in it.

And the people of Europe don’t want us behaving like this. They don’t want us abusing and using other nations just for financial reasons. They don’t want war. They don’t want them in an association of Europe. They want peace. They want money to be spent on housing, education, social infrastructure that all is spent on building armies that only just benefit the industry.

So I would argue that the EU will not continue to be a lapdog to American imperialism – that isn’t going to last forever. Sadly, it isn’t going to go away today or this year. But I do think that the day will come when the European people will force change in that area.

The last question, Brazil and the United Kingdom created a joint committee to facilitate the relationship in agribusiness signed by authorities from both countries. They are working in bilateral consultations on issues related to the trade of agricultural goods and establishing a forum of the base of interest in both countries which includes of course potential trade deals in which Brazil, hopes that the UK, abandon, the EU standards and allow more pesticides in the country. Do you reckon the UK after Brexit will pursue a more aggressive foreigner  neocolonialist police in Latin America and how the European union will respond? Would they use Latin America as a trading battlefield? 

That’s an interesting point. First of all, the conservative government in the UK would have no problem in dropping standards that have been set by the EU. I’m very critical of a lot of things that happen in the EU, but we have probably put better standards in place than most, and that has been a positive development. Now there is trade arrangements between the EU and the UK, and it will not be as easy as one thinks for the UK to abandon standards that are the norm in Europe and ours. Again, it faded the advantage over the Europeans because Europeans will have the potential to make life very, very difficult for Britain if they choose to do so. If Britain thinks that, for example, and it’s not just for South America, but for the United States, a Chinese company wants to buy a billion euros worth of sheet metal, I suppose.

And there’s a factory in France and a factory in Germany and famously one in Britain competing for the job. Now, if the UK is allowed to move the rules around change regulation, to duties, to taxes, so that the British come hopefully with gaining an advantage over the two in the EU. And when the contract with the Chinese, do you think the EU can tolerate? They can’t, they might be able to stop that deal, but you know,  stop other ones. And I can tell you that Britain is going to continue to do more business with the EU, and it’s going to do in any country in Latin America. There’s deals and business to do in Latin America, is there going to be a shift in British trade movement and policies? Not really sure if the terms are favorable, there would be increased trade with different producer countries, but I don’t see it as being a huge big game player.

I don’t see a huge change coming down. And I do not think that the UK, uh, would be allowed to choose what it likes and damage Europe and expect to get away with us on the issue of pesticides. I mean, there’s already that too. We have a big problem with pesticides. We’re already using too many pesticides in Europe and we are poisoning our food shed. We are reducing down, we’re introducing better regulation on it. And I think more progress will be made in that area. But right now we have banned some pesticides and chemicals for food production, but you know what we’re doing? What are companies like Bayer and Germany are doing? They’re selling it to countries in Latin America and Africa and Southeast Asia, selling what has been banned in Europe. And they’re selling to others when they know that it’s possible.

Now this can’t go on forever. This is a tinderbox. So this is the whole principle of people putting financial profits before the concerns of humanity. It’s just too bad and it cannot continue or there’ll be no future for the people. And there’s a brilliant saying from the indigenous in North America, it said, “When the last tree is cut down, the last fish eaten and the last stream poisoned, you will realize that you cannot eat money.”