Discussing the international competitiveness of the European agri-food model yesterday (17 May), the majority of EU-27 farm ministers agreed that the EU model is "not sufficiently recognised at international level".
The ministers acknowledged the cost that EU standards impose on Europe's farmers, but insisted that the sustainable nature of the model can be a positive factor in terms of trade. They discussed options to take advantage of this in international trade.
Options discussed included applying all EU standards to imports (reciprocity), exporting the EU model to third countries bilaterally or through international organisations, and explaining the added value of strict European standards by promotion campaigns or labelling.
Spanish Agriculture Minister Elena Espinosa said that some member states had a more open view about markets, but they also see the EU model as a trading opportunity.
"They see it very much as an advantage and not a disadvantage. But they see that there is a need to evaluate some of the cost-benefits of the model," she said.
In an interview with EurActiv in March, the chair of the European Parliament's agriculture committee, Italian Socialist MEP Paolo De Castro, said that the EU should force other world agricultural powers to adopt similar environmental rules if they wish to export to Europe (EurActiv 31/03/10).
French President Nicolas Sarkozy also said it is not normal to require European farmers to respect strict rules on issues like traceability, for example, while third countries can export farm products and meat to Europe without abiding by such rules. EU rules and standards need to be imposed on exporters as well, he said, referring to such reciprocity as the "Community preference".
Commission status report due by end 2010
Following a December 2008 request, the Commission is preparing a report assessing the economic risks and opportunities posed by differing standards between the EU and its key trading partners.
The report, which will also analyse how trade rules "can better interact with EU societal concerns and legitimate factors," is expected to be published by the end of 2010.