Media questions EFTA deal timing

A general view of a fire in the Amazon of Rondonia, Brazil Keystone / Joedson Alves
This content was published on August 25, 2019 - 11:53
Keystone-SDA/Sunday newspapers/SRF/Le Temps/ilj

“Playing with fire,” is the verdict of the Swiss press, in reaction to the free trade deal largely agreed between EFTA countries – among them Switzerland – and the Mercosur bloc, that includes Brazil.

Questions have been raised over the timing of the agreement. It comes as Brazil led by strongman president Jair Bolsonaro, faces heavy international criticism, particularly from the European Union, of its handling of the Amazon rainforest fires.  Bolsonaro has now sent in the army to tackle the blazes.

+ Read more about the details of the EFTA deal, as announced on Saturday

Should Switzerland even conclude agreements with such governments, wonders the NZZ am Sonntag in its leader. On the one hand, a small, open economy it needs free trade deals. But it should also use the ratification process – which is expected to conclude in 2021 – to put pressure on Brazil.

“And [Switzerland] should not let Jair Bolsonaro play it off against the EU,” wrote Luzi Bernet. The EU, of which Switzerland is not a member, has also recently agreed a free trade deal with Mercosur, the South American bloc which also includes Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina.

But France and Ireland are threatening to block this deal over the fires ravaging part of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil. “It would be naïve if Switzerland then jumped as a stopgap,” the NZZ am Sonntag said.

Parmelin’s role

Sonntagsblick did not mince its words when it came to criticising Economics Minister Guy Parmelin.  It must have helped Bolsonaro to announce the EFTA-Mercosur deal on Friday evening (he did this on Twitter). “Timing is everything in diplomacy. It irritates how smoothly Parmelin played along – making himself Bolsonaro’s useful fool in the process,” wrote the commentator, Reza Rafi in the newspaper edition. The flames were “also damaging Switzerland’s reputation,” he concluded.

Elsewhere in Sonntagsblick, the opinion was that Parmelin was “playing with fire” with the timing of the deal. The G7 summit, with France, Britain, Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States, is taking place this weekend in the Atlantic seaside resort of Biarritz, France. There is focus on the fires – which Parmelin did address in his press conference on Saturday, calling them a catastrophe - and the EU-Mercosur deal.  And there is opposition to the EFTA deal forming in the Swiss parliament, the article pointed out.

Winners, losers, responsibilities

Swiss public television SRF also pointed to the “unfortunate timing” of the EFTA-Mercosur agreement. There are always winners and losers in such a constellation. The winners are the Swiss exporters, the indigenous peoples and nature are the losers, it said in an analysis. Its not yet clear how affected Swiss farmers will be; concessions have been made in the agreement in favour of the Mercosur states.

Meanwhile, some newspapers have been looking at the G7 meeting. In an editorial published late Friday, Le Temps pointed out that the Amazon rainforest was so important because it represented, “what humanity shares and what it should actively do to defend it at all costs: namely the primary ecosystem, its water and forestry resources, its most vulnerable indigenous peoples…” The G7 will have to adopt a realistic approach to the situation and if it can’t find common solutions, it must make everyone to face up to their responsibilities over the outbreak of the fires, the newspaper concluded.

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