How to make trade the fairest of them all? That was the big theme of the French EU presidency, under which agricultural minister Julien Denormandie made his debut as chair of the agriculture and fisheries (AGRIFISH) Council this week.
The chimaera of trade reciprocity is not a new theme in Brussels as EU producers have long been scared of being wedged between the rock of the EU’s high standards and the wall of lower quality imports.
This is especially true when it comes to rules on the use of phytosanitary products and the import of ‘poisoned’ apples grown with pesticides that are banned in the EU. (Side note: yes, we’re aware that all imports must undergo strict health and safety checks, but it just fits the main theme too well).
Of course, the Green Deal has added another layer to an old debate, with the request of higher standards in terms of sustainability and environmental aspects.
And the agri-food part of it, the Commission’s Farm to Fork (F2F) strategy – which aims to make the European food system more sustainable through a set of stringent targets – did nothing to assuage anxiety in the farming community.
To not affect their competitiveness on the global stage, European farmers have asked that imported products meet the same environmental standards they have to comply with under the Green Deal.
But farmers from third countries say the requirement to meet those targets if they want to sell their products to Europe could soon become a major hurdle to trade.
It’s fair to say that the French have always been sensible to the issue of reciprocity in trade agreements.
It was indeed the French rapporteur on the Common Market Organisation (CMO) file, the socialist MEP Eric Andrieu, who pushed for addressing the issue of trade reciprocity already in the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform with the introduction of the so-called “mirror clauses”.
In the end, the MEP obtained that the trade aspects were addressed in a joint political statement attached to the reform and not in a specific article embedded in the CMO regulation.
Under this declaration, the European Commission committed to present an assessment of the rationale and legal feasibility of applying EU standards to imported agricultural products by this year.
So it’s not surprising that reciprocity has become one of the main priorities of the entire French Presidency.
Addressing MEPs in Strasbourg this week, French President Emmanuel Macron called the idea of mirror clauses in trade agreements “vitally important” and said Europe should ask for them in every negotiation.
The issue was also front and centre of discussions in the aforementioned AGRIFISH Council meeting, which gathered the EU-27 ministers of agriculture.
“We need to examine the coherence of our choices in conjunction with how best to protect the environment,” French minister and new AGRIFISH chair Denormandie stressed.
“I’m not saying that we shouldn’t pursue the Green Deal, and I’m not saying that we should close our borders, [or] that we shouldn’t respect [World Trade Organisation] rules. What I’m saying is that we have a major responsibility, and we have the right to ask these questions,” he said, adding this is a debate that “can’t be dodged”.
Ministers seem quite charmed with the idea of breathing some new life into the trade debate, notably Spanish agricultural minister Luis Planas, who stood firmly behind France’s ambitions.
For his part, EU agricultural Commissioner Wojciechowski also seems to have fallen under Denormandie’s spell.
Calling it “hurtful and untrue” that the EU’s high standards impede EU producers, the Commissioner insisted instead that these high standards are an advantage.
“But it will be an even bigger advantage if we will have the principle of reciprocity,” he conceded.
“We need to convince our trade partners that it is worthwhile to stake everything on the quality of food’s high standards,” he said.
Denormandie added that he expects the Commission to present a preliminary report on the dovetailing of trade policy and sectoral policies, particularly agriculture and food, in the March Council – however, the Commission stressed already during the CAP talks that such a deadline is not entirely feasible.
The question is – will the WTO see this as a mirror (clause) or a wall (for those countries that want to export to the EU)?
Because mirror clauses are a notoriously sticky issue for the WTO, who may well see attempts to compel exporters to the EU to comply with EU standards as flying in the face of trade organisation’s standards.
It’s also worth mentioning that this push on trade reciprocity could also be a sly electoral tactic.
Let’s not forget that the French presidency has coincided with the French elections, so this push on trade standards could be seen as political manoeuvering before the vote.
Nevertheless, it seems it’s heigh-ho, heigh-ho, off to work the (2)7 dwarves go in efforts to keep trade standards high-high instead of high-low.
(G.F & N.F.)
This week, EURACTIV’s agrifood team talks about the first AGRIFISH Council under the French Presidency (including anecdotes from inside the building), including issues in the pig sector as well as the fallout from the Belarus food embargo, and we are joined by EURACTIV Germany’s Julia Dahm together with Green MEP Tilly Metz to hear what happened in this week’s plenary vote on animal welfare during transport.
Agrifood stories of the week
Commissioner: Belarus food import embargo ‘weapon’ as part of hybrid attack on EU
EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski has branded the food import embargo instated by Belarus a ‘weapon’ that is part of a hybrid attack against the EU and vowed to support the member states most impacted by the restrictions. Natasha Foote has the story.
Commission still hesitant to step in and relieve distressed pig farmers
Brussels has said that they will not yet intervene directly in what is one of the worst crises for European pig farmers, as the EU executive is still confident the sector will find a way out on its own. Gerardo Fortuna has more.
EU farmers huff and puff over return of the ‘big bad’ wolf
A thriving European wolf population has reignited tensions with the EU farming community, leading European lawmakers to call for a reconsideration of the wolves’ high protection status in the EU to the chagrin of conservationists. Natasha Foote explores the issue.
Member states put pedal to the metal on Commission’s carbon farming plans
Member states are keen to step up talks on carbon sequestration in farming under the French EU presidency, given the Commission’s legislative proposal expected by the end of the year. Julia Dahm reports.
France to push EU states to approve avian flu vaccine for poultry
Two vaccines will soon be tested in France in response to the worst avian influenza outbreak Europe has ever faced, French Agriculture Minister Julien Denormandie has announced. The aim is for them to be approved for all 27 EU member states. EURACTIV France reports.
German ministers to push for end of agri-subsidies in Brussels
German Environment Minister Steffi Lemke and Agriculture Minister Cem Özdemir displayed unity at a joint appearance on Tuesday (18 January). The two Green ministers advocate the end of direct agricultural payments and increased organic production. EURACTIV Germany reports.
German agri minister to introduce mandatory animal welfare label
In his first government statement to the German federal parliament on Friday (January 14), Agriculture Minister Cem Özdemir announced his intentions to introduce mandatory husbandry labelling by the end of the year. EURACTIV Germany reports.
Call for promotional proposals: This week, the European Commission launched the 2022 calls for proposals for European agri-food promotion programmes, in the EU and abroad. Similarly to 2021, this year puts a special focus on the promotion of products and methods that support more directly the European Green Deal objectives. This includes the promotion of organic products, fruit and vegetables and sustainable agriculture (see here for more background on this).
Last chance: Friday (21 January) is the last day to participate in the public consultation on animal welfare in the EU. These answers will feed into the revision of EU animal welfare legislation that is being conducted in the framework of the EU’s Farm to Fork Strategy. The deadline is 21 January 2022 at midnight.
New agri-trade study: During the 2005-2018 period, EU agri-food imports became mainly composed of raw and intermediate products, with the share of finished products declining, according to a new study on agri-food imports and their role in the EU supply chains published this week by the European Commission. The report also found that the share of imports from European (non-EU) and Southeast Asian countries increased, while those from South America declined in relative terms. Overall, it found that the impact of agri-food imports is mainly complementary to EU production, with limited replacement.
Just transition: The Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP) published a new paper this week examining how a ‘just transition’ model could be applied to European agriculture. It sets out the relevance of just transition to agriculture and land use, some key issues arising in its application to the complex web of European farms, potential winners and losers, and proposes a first list of policy components to include in a focused EU plan. Check it out here.
Nutri-score goes a step further: The French research organisation Institut National de la Consommation and Centre de recherche have developed a personalised digital application called NutriPerso that serves as a complement French Nutri-score. The system takes into account the average portion consumed according to one’s sex and age, addressing one of the main criticism Nutri-score suffered. According to the NutriPerso developers, the system is more realistic and less guilt-inducing than the Nutri-score alone. However, for the no-Nutriscore Alliance, these kinds of tools are not the solution to citizens’ health problems and are a deception for them, they explained in a note.
New kid on the block: The WTO launched its first edition of its ‘News Harvest’ newsletter last week, focusing on how policy makers are grappling with high food prices and the pandemic as 2022 begins.
AGRIFISH Council: From French presidency priorities to market issues, see here for an overview summary of the main Council conclusions from the AGRIFISH Council this week.
Wood you believe it? On Friday (21 January), the EU requested consultations with Russia at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) concerning export restrictions placed by Russia on wood products. The export restrictions consist of significantly increased export duties on certain wood products and a drastic reduction in the number of border crossing points through which exports of wood products can take place. See here for more.
Geographical indication: The Commission approved the addition of the berry ’Увс чацаргана/Uvs chatsargana’ from Mongolia in the register of Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) this week.
Agrifood news from the Capitals
UK positions itself as frontrunner in gene editing research. In the hopes of becoming a frontrunner in biotechnology following Brexit, the UK has announced new legislation cutting what it deems as “unnecessary” red tape to encourage gene-editing research. Natasha Foote has the details. (EURACTIV.com)
Germany invests €816 million in agri innovation. The agriculture ministry will prolong its “agriculture investment programme”, which aims to support agricultural businesses seeking to invest in new technologies. According to the ministry, the programme hopes to strengthen the sector’s resource efficiency, biodiversity protection, and the reduction of CO2 emissions through technological solutions. For the period from 2021 to 2024, € 816 million are earmarked for the programme. In practice, businesses can apply for subsidies to invest in modern machines for the application of pesticides and fertilisers or for mechanical weed control. The funding can also be claimed for better manure storage facilities. (Julia Dahm | EURACTIV.DE)
Austria cuts taxes for farmers, pays back carbon price costs. The country’s parliament adopted a tax reform package on Thursday (20. January), which will significantly reduce the tax burden for the agriculture and forestry sector, according to agriculture minister Elisabeth Köstinger. Among other things, farmers will benefit from tax rebates to compensate for additional costs arising from carbon pricing. “Currently, agriculture and forestry cannot do without fossil fuels, for example for tractors and machines”, Köstinger said, adding that it was “only fair” for these sectors to be compensated for carbon pricing. (Julia Dahm | EURACTIV.DE)
Baguette at 29 cents: Julien Denormandie calls for an end to the ongoing “price war”. French supermarket giant Leclerc’s recent announcement to sell baguettes at only 29 cents continues to make waves in France. Reacting to the polemic in front of the National Assembly on Tuesday, the French minister of Agriculture declared his determination to fight back against the ongoing price war in France and enforce the Egalim 2 law (which aims at guaranteeing fair revenues for farmers). The price war was “deadly for our farmers and for our food sovereignty”, Denormandie stressed, saying that the Leclerc communication campaign “sends a terrible message”. The minister recalled that the French government had applied to UNESCO to add the French baguette to the world’s cultural heritage in March 2021, the decision being expected by this autumn. Contrary to this engagement, the “big [supermarket] bosses’” attitude of “playing a price war” would only encourage the import of cheap baguette, Denormandie said, promising he would “not give up” on this fight. (Magdalena Pistorius | EURACTIV.FR)
Ireland gains upper hand against avian flu. Avian influenza surveillance zones are set to be lifted across both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland by 22 January following the successful completion of all disease control activities and surveillance in and around the infected premises, according to Agriland. While Northern Ireland agriculture minister Edwin Poots said this was welcome news, he took the opportunity to warn against complacency, highlighting the risk of avian influenza “has not disappeared and we are certainly not out of the woods yet”. The news comes on the back of several EU countries, including Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Italy, experiencing some of the worst waves of avian flu ever recorded. This has led French agricultural minister Julien Denormandie to push EU states to approve avian flu vaccine for poultry. (Natasha Foote | EURACTIV.com)
Oil producers go on strike. 98% of the cooperatives and oil mills in the southern Spanish province of Jaén have closed their doors this week in protest to the distribution CAP subsidies, according to the agricultural organisations Asaja, COAG, UPA, Cooperativas Agro-alimentarias and Infaoliva. According to the organisations, the envisaged subsidies will not be enough to compensate for rising production prices. EURACTIV’s partner EFE Agro has more. (EFE)
“Greek Nutrition” and Nutriscore. Food and rural development minister Spilios Livanos is set to present a guide for “Greek Nutrition”, he announced in a speech this week. Among other things, he said Greece “has expressed its opinion on front-of-package nutrition labelling schemes for food (FOPNL), stating its preference for a descriptive and monochrome scheme rather than a scheme for overall food assessment, such as the Nutriscore”. In Brussels, Spilios added, the country has advocated for the harmonisation of front-of-package nutrition labelling (FOPNL) schemes at EU level and has argued that the format chosen should be “neutral and limited to convey the information captured in the nutrition declaration panel on each food”. (Georgia Evangelia Karagianni| EURACTIV.gr)
African swine fever threat looms large. The first confirmed cases of ASF in the Italian regions of Piedmont and Liguria – close to the ‘Parma ham’ region – are also casting a shadow on the local pigmeat sector. It is not yet known how the disease has arrived in Italy, but the genotype of the disease is a different one than the one on the island of Sardinia, where they have had an endemic situation for over 40 years without outbreaks on the mainland. The developments in Italy were already followed by actions in third countries with Japan, Kuwait, China, Switzerland, and Taiwan who already banned the imports of pork and pork preparations from Italy, something that is worrying pork farmers in Italy. (Gerardo Fortuna | EURACTIV.com)
Stakeholders to debate Green Deal’s impact on Polish agriculture. During a recent meeting, the country’s council for agriculture and rural areas discussed potential impact of the European Green deals on the agricultural sector. Representatives of the scientific community presented results of their research, according to which the Green Deal is negatively impacting agricultural production, the supply of food to European consumers, and prices. The meeting concluded that the recommendations contained in the Farm to Fork Strategy – one of the agriculture-related strategies within the Green Deal – will inevitably reduce food production in Poland. The council’s head, Jan Krzysztof Ardanowski, said the consequences of the Green Deal for the food market “will be obvious”, adding that the policy would increase pressure to import food from “continents where European standards are not respected in any way”. (Kamila Wilczyńska | EURACTIV.pl)
Budapest lauds capping of food prices. As reported by Daily News Hungary, the Hungarian minister of agriculture, István Nagy, has hailed the ‘bold’ move of capping the prices of basic food at their October levels, taken by Viktor Orbán last week, saying it shows that the government is prepared to intervene if prices get out of control. Measures imposed by the government serve to support and protect Hungarian families, István Nagy told public broadcaster Kossuth Rádió. Not only will the rollback of prices save families money, but it will also “send a message to the market” that the government “is not afraid to take even the most unexpected steps”, he said. (Natasha Foote | EURACTIV.com)
Slovak food producers raise alarms as CAP strategic plan approaches finish line. The Slovak Food Chamber (PKS) claims that, according to data published by Eurostat in December, Slovakia ranks last in food production in the whole of the EU. “The country which used to export food to the surrounding countries, which has excellent natural conditions and a tradition of food production, now has fallen at rock bottom,” said Daniel Poturnay, President of the Food Chamber of Slovakia. Representatives of the food sector bemoan that the Ministry of Agriculture does not take this issue seriously while preparing the CAP Strategic Plan. The Ministry proposes to allocate €75 million to support food producers and processors for the years 2023 to 2027. In the new programming period, Slovakia will receive € 4.3 billion from the CAP. “Neighbouring countries are not sleeping. They are thoughtfully building support for their own processing capacities, which our investment will not be able to compete with,“ Potrunay added. (Marián Koreň | EURACTIV.sk)
Support for farmers in cultural heritage areas takes next step. Croatia’s draft programme for supporting producers farming on land protected as cultural heritage has entered the stage of public consultation. Until 14 February, stakeholders can voice their views on the subsidy programme meant to compensate farmers for the reduced profitability of their land due to the obligation to comply with cultural protection rules. The programme, worth 5 million kuna (€ 660,000), will be implemented in 2022. Among other things, the funds are set to be used to help revitalise agricultural production on neglected parcels of land and to encourage the planting of traditional agricultural crops. While announcing the programme, agriculture minister Marija Vučković had placed special emphasis on protecting the Starogradsko polje, the Stari Grad Plain, a UNESCO cultural heritage site that makes up 15% of agricultural land on the island of Hvar. (Željko Trkanjec, Euractiv.hr)
25 January | Civil Society Dialogue meeting with DG Trade’s Sabine Weyand on trade policy
[Edited by Alice Taylor]