Agrifood Brief: Brexit crunch time – no time to chew the fat

Your weekly update on all things Agriculture & Food in the EU.

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5 - Agroforestry, pig tails, carbon farming

 

As UK-EU negotiations come to a head, with the last round of intense negotiations this week, key stakeholders in agrifood on both sides of the channel are sounding the alarm about the future of the sector.

With the clock ticking, the UK approved legislation on Tuesday (29 September) that allows ministers to override the agreed divorce deal with the European Union, despite the fact it violates international law.

The controversial Internal Market Bill seeks to offer a “safety net” for trade between Britain’s four nations after the Brexit transition period expires in December, but has soured relations with Brussels.

In response, the European Commission sent the United Kingdom a letter of formal notice for breaching its obligations under the Withdrawal Agreement on Thursday (1 October), marking the start of a formal infringement process.

The move did little to ease the mounting tensions, as the UK edges ever closer to an increasingly likely no-deal scenario.

This is especially true in the agrifood sector, which stands to be one of the worst hit by the effects of Brexit and is staring down the barrel end of two scenarios:

One is a limited Free Trade Agreement (FTA), and the other a no-deal Brexit, leaving EU-UK trade on World Trade Organisation terms, which means the introduction of tariffs and quotas on trade into and out of the UK.

With negotiations still up in the air, the only certainty afforded to the agri sector is that the way EU food businesses trade with the UK will change significantly.

Addressing the Commons last week, George Eustice, secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs, sought to assuage concerns over price increases and food insecurity post-Brexit.

Addressing concerns from UK retailers that tariffs will lead to increased food prices for consumers, he answered that the impact from tariffs will be “quite modest”, with a potential increase of only a few percentage points of the overall costs.

Although he stressed the importance of reaching a deal by mid-October, saying this was being done “with rigour and good faith,” Eustice also recently told the BBC Today programme that leaving with no agreement would be a good thing as it would mean the UK had “regained its independence”.

But these assurances have done little to allay the fears over the bleak outlook of the agrifood sector.

And rightly so, according to a new London School of Economics report published this week, which found that both scenarios would result in a reduced availability of EU products, reduced traded volumes across the UK and the EU, and higher prices for branded and unbranded types of products.

It found that food trade between the UK and EU will be slashed by almost a quarter in both directions even if a free-trade agreement is reached before the end of this year, primarily driven by ‘non-tariff barriers’ such as new paperwork.

Various voices – from farmers to celebrity chefs –  have now joined the Brexit cacophony to urge the government to uphold protections and safeguards on food over fears that Britain will be flooded with low-quality imports in trade deals with the rest of the world.

Most recently, the Irish meat sector issued concerns over the increasing likelihood of a no-deal trade scenario between the UK and the EU, with the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) saying there has been an “industry silence” on the prospects for the sector over the tough winter months.

Likewise, in a letter sent from the other side of the Channel last week, key EU agrifood players warned that failure to reach a deal on future EU-UK trade relations will result in a “devastating double whammy” for farmers, agri-food businesses and traders who are already struggling to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Less than four months before the end of the transition period, there are still many unknowns that make preparation impossible. In particular, food operators from both sides of the Channel need to know the UK’s regulatory regime on plant health, animal health, food and feed controls, and any future requirements impacting EU exports,” the letter said.

It stressed that the agreement must seek to maintain a level playing field between the EU and the UK, as well as protect the integrity of the single market.

But it is becoming increasingly difficult to see a way out of these negotiations which is favourable for the agri sector, both in the bloc and over the Channel.

(N.F.)

Agrifood news this week

 

Routine illegal pig-tail docking continues unabated in the EU
Despite the fact that the practice was outlawed over 20 years ago, only two member states have banned pig-tail docking, according to a Commission response offered to a parliamentary question on the matter. Natasha Foote has the story.

Handling soil with care: Conservation Agriculture’s role in post-2020 CAP
Despite being taken into consideration only slightly in the EU’s current farming subsidies programme, Conservation Agriculture is set to play a central role in the green architecture of the post-2020 Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Gerardo Fortuna has more.

Genetically modified soybean gains EU Commission approval
The European Commission authorised a genetically modified soybean for food and feed, but not cultivation, on Monday (28 September), paving the way for a full launch of the variety in the US and Canada in 2021. See here for more details.

Europe revives carbon farming but without access to carbon markets
The concept of soil carbon sequestration, a cornerstone of regenerative farming, is regaining strength as a key measure in both climate mitigation and adaptation. However the agricultural and land-use sector is so far being kept outside the bloc’s carbon market – the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). Learn more here.

‘Urban Farming’: Are rooftop fields the future?
Large cities offer millions of square meters of unused roof space. Why aren’t they being converted to cultivate crops? The potential seems enormous, but “urban farming” is still in its infancy. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Rewarding farmers for ecological services could help protect biodiversity
As the World Summit on Biodiversity opens on Wednesday (30 September), new measures to halt its decline are being discussed, including the concept of payments for environmental services, which is currently widely debated in France and the EU. EURACTIV France reports.

 

“We need to look at the compatibility of our imports with deforestation. Consumers need guarantees on the sourcing of proteins that are imported in Europe”

Michael Scannell, Deputy Director General of DG AGRI, speaking at the FEFAC congress last week

News from the bubble

CAP and Green Deal mismatch: 30 EU civil society organisations and 250 organisations working in coalition in seven Member States wrote to the leaders of EU Institutions calling out the mismatch between ongoing negotiations on the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the objectives of the European Green Deal.

Neonicotinoid reauthorisation: The European Commission jumped in the debate over France’s re-authorisation of neonicotinoids to save its sugar beet industry, hinting that the EU executive may not grant the French government derogations on the use of the controversial class of pesticides. Speaking before MEPs in the European Parliament’s Environment Committee (ENVI), Klaus Berend, head of unit for pesticides and biocides in Commission’s DG SANTE, said “If EFSA finds that these emergency authorisations are not justified, we will take the same steps as we did for Lithuania and Romania last year and adopt a Commission decision prohibiting the repetition of these emergency authorisations.”

Budget ring-fencing: The European parliament is currently working on how to allocate the €7.5 billion top-up coming to the EU’s farming subsidies programme from the bloc’s post-COVID stimulus plan. The European Parliament’s agriculture committee rapporteur on this issue, socialist MEP Paolo De Castro filed some amendments to the German presidency proposals aiming  at ring-fencing 37% of the budget for agro-environmental measures, but also at increasing the level of support up to 100% for investment linked to the transition toward a smarter, more digital and more resilient agricultural sector. “Our objective is to reflect the same level of ambition shown by President Von Der Leyen in her State of the Union address, where she committed to invest 37% of NextGenerationEU directly on our European Green Deal objectives,” rapporteur De Castro told EURACTIV. The vote is expected on 12 October.

New geographical indication: The European Commission has approved the application for inclusion of ‘Brački varenik’ from Croatia in the Register of Protected Geographical Indications (PGI). ‘Brački varenik’ is a product used as a condiment and obtained by cooking squeezed juice from fresh or dried grapes.

Funding for sustainable agriculture: 46 new projects will receive over €236 million in research funding grants from the Horizon 2020 programme. These projects will develop innovative solutions, including approaches to reduce pesticide use and to deliver healthy food from land and sea, foster urban food systems, and promote agroecology and energy free farming, among others.  More information here.

Romania joins EU farmers association: Romanian farming and cooperative organisations united forces in the Alliance for Agriculture and Cooperation and joined farmers association COPA-COGECA as full members this week as part of its goal to be more of a present partner at an EU level.

Commissioner under quarantine: EU Health and Food Safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides is under quarantine this week after a close contact tested positive for COVID-19. She confirmed the news in a tweet.

Cage-free farming: The European Commission received a European Citizens’ Initiative signed by 1.4 million people this week which calls on the EU to phase out the use of cages for farmed animals. ‘End the Cage Age’ is only the sixth European Citizens’ Initiative to reach the required threshold of 1 million signatures since the first Initiative was launched over eight years ago, and is the first successful Initiative for farmed animals.

Agrifood news from the Capitals

UK
UK beef to be served on US plates for first time in over 20 years, with first exports commencing from a Northern Irish facility, according to a statement on the UK government’s website. After the USA’s longstanding ban on EU beef – introduced in the wake of the mad cow disease outbreak in 1996 –  market access for UK beef was granted in March 2020. The statement called this a “historic moment” for UK farmers and food producers. (Natasha Foote | EURACTIV.com)

FRANCE
The “great national debate on agriculture” started again last weekend after being postponed due to COVID-19. The government is looking to consult the population in order to define France’s position in the negotiations on the future Common Agricultural Policy. The three priority objectives of the future CAP have been identified as sustainable management of natural resources, protection of biodiversity, landscapes and ecosystems, and combating and adapting to climate change. (Anne Damiani EURACTIV.fr)

IRELAND
The Irish government rushed through emergency legislation for the timber industry this week amid fears that the sector is running out of native raw material after changes in licensing was introduced by the EU after Ireland was found to not fully meet EU environmental requirements. In order to keep timber mills in business, Ireland will now look to import timber from Scotland. (Natasha Foote | EURACTIV.com)

ITALY
The Operational Group ULTRAREP is working on innovative ultrasonic technology to protect crops from ungulates, in a sustainable way, while not harming animals. The presence of ungulates, such as deer and wild boar, living in the Italian region of Tuscany cause serious damage to farm crops, resulting in loss of income for farmers. “For every farmer there are now 5 ungulates, a number that almost doubled in five years. Therefore, we hope that ultrasound technology for the removal of wild ungulates can be an answer”, says Massimiliano Biagi, the agronomist in charge of the ULTRAREP operational  group. (EURACTIV.com)

On our radar

The Parliament will hold a plenary vote next Tuesday (6 October) on the draft European Climate Law, which seeks to enshrine into hard legislation the EU’s goal of reaching “climate neutrality” by 2050, and also on the  the European Forest Strategy.

Upcoming events

6 October – The European Commission, in partnership with the European Investment Bank, is holding a webinar on the ‘Financial needs in the agriculture and agri-food sectors in Austria and the Czech Republic’.

7-11 October – The Alimenterre film festival will take place in Belgium, designed to bring attention to films with themes such as the resilience to the current food systems challenges, the reconnection to local production, food sovereignty in Africa, and the prospects for future for young farmers in times of crisis.

 

 

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