This article is part of our special report What to expect in EU policy in 2021?.
This year is likely to be the one in which the much-awaited reform of the main EU’s massive farming subsidies programme, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), will see the light.
The Portuguese rotating presidency of the EU Council has made no secret of its wish to reach an agreement with the European Parliament’s negotiators by April.
“In the next six months, we will be committed to the conclusion of the CAP negotiations,” the Portuguese agriculture minister Maria do Céu Antunes told EURACTIV in an exclusive interview.
On the Parliament’s side, negotiators keep insisting that positions on the green architecture of CAP, the main bone of contention, are still very far apart.
But with the current CAP transitional period expiring in 2022, and with member states expected to file their national strategic plans already this year, it is extremely likely that a final deal will be agreed in the months to come.
Even if co-legislators do not manage to strike a deal under the Portuguese presidency, another attempt will almost certainly be successful on Slovenia’s watch in the second half of 2021.
Another thing to keep an eye on is whether the Commission will manage to convince Parliament and Council to include in the final CAP texts as much as possible of the EU’s new food policy, the Farm to Fork strategy (F2F).
What Brexit means
The historic Brexit agreement, signed in the nick of time on Christmas Eve, might mark the beginning of a new era for EU-UK relations, but it by no means signals an end to concerns over the future of the agrifood sector.
While the sealing of the deal was welcomed by agrifood stakeholders on both sides of the Channel, they were also quick to warn of impending disruption in the agrifood supply chain.
One notable challenge that has already emerged post-Brexit is the introduction of tariffs on goods imported into the UK from the bloc for processing at British distribution hubs, before then being re-exported to member states.
This is due to the rules of origin clauses in the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement, under which all goods must be able to demonstrate that they originate in the EU or the UK in order to qualify for zero-tariff treatment.
This may be of particular importance for businesses in Ireland, where retailers are looking to rapidly relocate across the border to avoid being hit with such charges.
A number of other concerns remain open, such as the indication that England may look to authorise gene-edited crops after launching a consultation on the issue, diverging from the EU position on the matter, and also that the UK has given no guarantees of protection of EU geographical indications (GIs).
The EU and the UK will now have to work to iron out this and any subsequent issues that the new Brexit deal throws up, meaning that much of this year will be devoted to adapting to the realities of the EU’s newly forged relationship with the UK.
The Commission has announced an important revision of the legislative framework for geographical indications (GIs) for all agricultural sectors, with the exception of wines and spirits, which will maintain their current specificities.
GIs are designed to protect the names of specific products to promote their unique characteristics, linked to their geographical origin as well as to the know-how embedded in a certain region.
The Commission’s new attempt to strengthen, modernise, streamline and better enforce GIs for agri-food products is part of a broader intellectual property (IP) action plan, supposed to support the EU’s recovery and resilience.
But this revision is also expected to boost GIs potential in contributing to the EU’s new food policy, the Farm to Fork strategy (F2F).
GIs will also play a key role in improving agriculture relations with Africa ahead of the sixth meeting with the African Union in 2021, as the EU will support concrete actions to the development of intellectual property when it comes to African foodstuffs.
One of these actions includes the direct registration as a GI in the EU of Penja pepper from Cameroon. It would be the first sub-Saharan GI approved in the EU and the first African one not originating in South Africa.
State aid and trade policy: review
Two undergoing reviews of broader EU policies, on state aid and trade, will also have a considerable impact on the general review of agriculture.
The current state aid framework for the agriculture sector will be applicable until the end of 2021 and the Commission will probably push for a further procedural simplification.
At the same time, it will be important to link the new state aid framework with the reformed CAP, as most of the state aid allowed in the sector fall in the common market organisation (CMO), a key portion of the common farming policy.
More coordination work will be needed in the wake of the decision at the beginning of the Commission’s mandate to move state aid competences in farming from DG AGRI to DG COMP.
A rethinking of the EU’s general trade policy is currently underway and will take into account the new commitment to sustainable food systems indicated in the F2F.
For instance, the EU is to propose new rules later this year to prevent the import of agriculture commodities linked to deforestation.
Other issue on the radar
The EU executive is to deliver a much-awaited study on new genomic techniques by the end of April 2021 that will clarify this thorny issue after the controversial European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling in 2018.
Another study expected in early 2021 will consider the impact an extension of mandatory origin labelling might have on food business operators and will have a major impact on the Commission’s proposal for the EU-wide labelling scheme.
Lastly, the Commission is expected to finally unveil its action plan on organic farming to help member states stimulate supply and demand for organic products.
In her interview with EURACTIV, the Portuguese agriculture minister listed the development of EU organic production high among the presidency’s priorities.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]