Free Trade Agreement Between EU and Australia Freezes Over Disagreements in Animal Welfare

FOUR PAWS underlines importance of next year´s European elections for a revision of animal welfare legislation


Vienna/Osaka, 9 November 2023 – Last week saw discussions between the European Commissioner for Trade, Valdis Dombrovskis, and Australia’s Minister for Trade, Don Farrell, come to an abrupt halt. Mainly differences concerning quotas in the agricultural sector but also disagreements towards welfare for farmed animals led to no agreement and both parties returning home empty-handed.

The Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the EU and Australia have been underway since 2018 but in light of the European elections in 2024 and the national elections in Australia the year after, solutions might have been halted for a longer period of time.

Global animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS underlines the importance of key improvements in animal welfare, amongst others the phase-out of the cruel mutilation of lambs called mulesing.

According to media reports negotiations mainly came to a standstill because of disagreements for the access of Australian beef, mutton and lamb to the EU market, which has – in comparison to Australia – strong regulations.

Differences between the parties are also apparent for one of the most invasive routine mutilations of farmed animals and a unicum in Australia: the cruel procedure of mulesing, where a few-months-old lamb’s buttocks are cut to prevent a condition called flystrike. Over ten million lambs suffer from this ordeal each year in the biggest wool producing country Australia.

“We have been advocating for years now for an industry-wide shift towards flystrike-resistant sheep breeding and management which ends mulesing and flystrike. It is of the most importance that EU institutions do not back away from a clear stance against mulesed wool. This procedure is clearly forbidden in the European Union. Furthermore, it is crucial that this ultimate goal is not softened with alleged improvements such as the usage of pain reliefs during the mutilation process. Of all the Australian wool growers less than one out of ten farmers  are administering the best available combination of a local anaesthetic in conjunction with an analgesic. Newest video footage that was released during a sitting in Victoria’s parliament last week shows that even if sheep are given pain reliefs, the animals are screaming in pain”. 

Rebecca Picallo Gil, leader “End Mulesing”-campaign, FOUR PAWS

“Since next year will see elections in the European Parliament, chances to find an agreement for the Free Trade agreement before that are close to zero. FOUR PAWS will continue to advocate against mulesing because pain-free alternatives are available and can save millions of lambs from this severe suffering if taken up,” Picallo Gil concludes.

The EU-Australia Free Trade Agreement

The negotiations around the EU-Australia Trade Agreement started on 18th June 2018. The agreement seeks to remove barriers between the markets, improve market access on both sides, promote and enforce intellectual property rights and to introduce ambitious provisions on trade and sustainable development, showing a shared commitment to labour rights and environmental protection with reference to the climate crisis.

FOUR PAWS has further intensified its efforts to have the FTA considering the issue of mulesing since Italy is the second biggest importer of Australian wool.

FOUR PAWS against mulesing

FOUR PAWS recently documented the rising anti-mulesing brand movement (currently 400 global brands) and nearly 80 brands are taking a step further and calling out the Australian wool industry directly to ask for a phase out of mulesing by 2030 in this open letter. Despite the growing number of Australian mulesing-free growers which amount to more than 3,000, FOUR PAWS has released individual grower case studies I, II and an economic report gathering insights of Australian wool growers who have successfully transitioned to flystrike resistant sheep breeding and management within only three to five years ending flystrike and mulesing. The industry needs to take measures now and support growers to switch to pain-free alternatives to meet market demands and end mulesing by 2030.

Pigs in factory farming


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Michael Kellner

Michael Kellner

PR International Officer

+43 (0) 664 504 38 97

VIER PFOTEN International 
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FOUR PAWS is the global animal welfare organisation for animals under direct human influence, which reveals suffering, rescues animals in need and protects them. Founded in 1988 in Vienna by Heli Dungler and friends, the organisation advocates for a world where humans treat animals with respect, empathy and understanding. The sustainable campaigns and projects of FOUR PAWS focus on companion animals including stray dogs and cats, farm animals and wild animals – such as bears, big cats and orangutans – kept in inappropriate conditions as well as in disaster and conflict zones. With offices in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Kosovo, the Netherlands, Switzerland, South Africa, Thailand, Ukraine, the UK, the USA and Vietnam as well as sanctuaries for rescued animals in eleven countries, FOUR PAWS provides rapid help and long-term solutions.

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