De Castro: EU should seek 'reciprocity' in green farm rules

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The EU should force other world agricultural powers to adopt similar environmental rules if they wish to export to Europe, the chair of the European Parliament's agriculture committee, Paolo De Castro, told EurActiv in an interview.

Italian Socialist MEP Paolo De Castro is the chair of the European Parliament's committee on agriculture and rural development.

He was speaking to Outi Alapekkala.

To read a shortened version of this interview, please click here

How should the CAP be reformed to make it respond to today's multiple challenges, including increased but sustainable food production?

This is a challenge. We are working now on the financial perspectives and I've already said that we need to change the agenda.

First, we need to explain to everybody why we need the CAP, and what the big challenges that agriculture should focus on in the future are. Then, we can choose the tools to manage these new issues and only afterwards can we decide how much money is needed for the policy to deliver. Now, we have started the debate on financial perspectives and the budget first. This is not the right order.

The key issue in this is to explain how the CAP is a policy for all citizens, not only for farmers.

Farmers mean land management and land management, and farming means environmental issues. If we want farming to produce public goods on food security and safety as well as animal welfare, we need to have this policy.

So you're trying to make sure that the current CAP will not be weakened or its budget decreased?

Our committee will try to make sure that everybody understands that the CAP budget is an important one and that the CAP is a policy for all, not just for farmers. We need this policy with an important budget because we need this policy for everybody.

Some member states push for more innovation and transport, etc., but they cannot do these policies without money.

We will try to explain the priorities of the CAP to make sure it gets the right budget.

Is there a consensus on the future CAP priorities?

With the new powers of the Parliament, and each MEP representing the will of the people, finding consensus will be much easier as we can show the correct picture of what people want. And people want to keep agriculture and the CAP as an important pillar of the European house.

In the Council, member states seek specific solutions to their individual problems, whereas in the Parliament we share much more the European feeling. We need to explain and give a clear picture to citizens of the new goals and challenges.

The Fischler reform [Franz Fischler; former EU agriculture commissioner] changed completely the path of EU farm policy and it is important to continue on that path to modernise the CAP.

And the key issue is to show and explain that the CAP and its budget give public goods and services to the people. This means also that future CAP payments will be much more linked to public goods.

So, one of the future CAP priorities is the delivery of public goods. What about food security? How can the EU contribute to reducing global food insecurity?

Public goods mean even food security. And as food security will in the near future be one of the big issues, we need to realise that the CAP can contribute to global food security as well.

What is your view on agricultural trade liberalisation and how can the remaining trade-distorting subsidies be eliminated? Can the planned payments for 'environmental public goods' be considered as non-trade distorting ones?

Yes, because in the WTO we consider these as belonging to the so-called 'green box' [non-trade distorting measures].

When comparing the US Farm Bill and the EU CAP, for example, Europe is a step ahead on these measures as the US Farm Bill does not include such measures.

More than 70% of the total CAP measures are in the green box in the WTO. In the US farm bill, a lot of measures are in the 'blue box' [trade-distorting measures]. In the 2008 Farm Bill, the US re-coupled a lot of measures, while the EU has been de-coupling.

We have to continue this process [de-coupling] to eliminate all trade-distorting measures and continue the path started by the Fischler 2003 reform. We also need to focus more on public goods so that the farm aid is not just about market distortion and price intervention. We don't want to create confusion in the market. We should be an open market.

Don't forget that Europe imports more food and agricultural products from all over the world than the US, Canada and Australia put together, and 85% of African agricultural exports go to Europe.

Europe should continue to be an open market but the standards and rules followed by EU farmers should be followed even by the people who want to export in Europe, otherwise this leads to distortion. If we are very proud of our animal welfare standards we should be sure that these are followed by people exporting in Europe as well, because otherwise we create unfair competition between the EU and the rest of the world.

This is a very important issue, which we call reciprocity, and this has been followed in the United States for years. If you want to export a bottle of wine into the US, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows you to do so if you are following United States rules.

And this is exactly what we have to introduce in Europe with more attention to the issue of reciprocity.

Do you think Europe's focus on greening agriculture through more sustainable practices and focusing on environmental protection can inspire or force other countries to opt for the same path?

Yes, I think so, because we don't want to close Europe. Europe should be even more open but it is clear that the rules and standards need to be the same for everybody.

For example, regarding egg production, as of 2012 it will no longer be possible to grow chickens in boxes in EU territory.

This is an animal welfare issue and it is important that others follow the same standards so that more stringent production requirements in the EU don't lead to mere delocalisation of production in areas where standards are lower.

Reciprocity in standards can help Europe push others into the right direction.

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