Agrifood Brief: Days of wine and truces

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36 - Controversial guests, EU-US truce & pesticide ban

This week: EURACTIV discusses the controversy around the fact that EU farmers association COPA-COGECA was invited to this week’s informal AGRIFISH Council, we explore the EU-US trade truce and what this means for the agrifood sector, and we speak with journalist and campaigner Georgina Downs about a recent referendum in Switzerland on a ban of the use of synthetic pesticides and the UK’s upcoming environment bill, which may also restrict their use

Another trade truce between the EU and United States is taking off after 17 years of a civil aircraft dispute, with both shores of the Atlantic now calling for a line to be drawn under this for good.

This week, the EU and the US agreed to suspend the application of retaliatory tariffs stemming from WTO disputes over government subsidies to aircraft manufacturers Airbus and Boeing.

It is the longest trade dispute in the history of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), as Commission President Ursula von der Leyen stressed.

Back in October of 2019, the US announced punitive tariffs on EU agri-food products after the World Trade Organisation (WTO) ruled in their favour over EU subsidies for the European aircraft manufacturer Airbus.

The tariffs concerned imports of EU products worth a total of €6.8 billion, ranging from Italian cheeses to French wines and Scotch whisky.

In November, the EU confirmed additional tariffs of 25% on US agricultural goods in retaliation for a similar move from the Trump administration.

Perhaps you’re wondering now what agrifood products have to do with aircrafts. The answer is – unsurprisingly – nothing.

As was highlighted by MEP Irene Tolleret on Twitter, the European agricultural sector has been held hostage to a trade war while the EU-US relationship was increasingly deteriorating.

But it wasn’t only the European producers who were complaining about the situation.

At the end of 2020, the two renowned US-based chefs Kwame Onwuachi and Alice Waters wrote a column that appeared in the Washington Post pointing out how unfortunate this feud was for American restaurateurs and caterers as well.

“The tariffs on wine alone have caused four times as much damage here as they have in Europe,” they wrote.

“Spanish wine may have nothing to do with Boeing, but the Trump administration thought it could bring Europe to its knees over aircraft subsidies by taxing food exports,” the op-ed reads.

They also added that this policy led European producers to other markets, especially in Asia to sell their wares while U.S. businesses suffered.

Once again, one of the biggest problems for the agri-food sector of both sides of the Atlantic was this sense of extraneousness to the situation.

While the 5-year truce was welcomed by everyone, there’s still a need for a permanent solution to avoid agriculture having to pay a high price for a conflict they are not involved in.

It’s true that the EU-US relationship seem to be having a new honeymoon, but what if Biden doesn’t win another term as President? What if his successor’s stance on trade will be as protectionist as Trump’s?

For the moment these are days of wine and truces, to borrow from the Oscar-winning song ‘Days of wine and roses’ by Henri Mancini and sung, among others, by Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and Tony Bennett.

The days mentioned in the song were spent laughing and running away like a child at play “toward a closing door a door marked ‘nevermore’ that wasn’t there before”

And that’s exactly what the agrifood sector would ideally like to do when it comes to these tariffs: crossing that ‘nevermore’ door and leave everything behind.

Stories of the Week

Decision to invite EU farmers association to informal CAP talks divides opinion
The decision by the Portuguese rotating presidency to invite exclusively EU farmers association COPA-COGECA to this week’s informal gathering of EU agriculture ministers has divided agricultural stakeholders, some of whom complained that “this toxic tradition” should end. Natasha Foote has the story

EU agrifood sector rejoices at five-year trade truce with US
Agri-food stakeholders and policymakers have welcomed the extension of the retaliatory tariff reprieve with the United States for another five years, as well as the steps taken to end the civil aircraft dispute that has disproportionately affected the sector. Gerardo Fortuna has the details

MEP: Member states trying to preserve ‘absurd’ agricultural status quo
EU member states are trying to preserve “absurd” agricultural situations when it comes to redistribution of farming payments, according to one MEP, who stressed that the European Parliament is not willing to budge on the matter. Natasha Foote has more

Bundestag adopts national CAP package amid ongoing EU negotiations
While negotiations on the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform have not been concluded in Brussels, the German Bundestag, racing to complete work before national elections in September, has passed a legislative package to be implemented at the national level. EURACTIV Germany reports

UK suffers ‘disaster’ £2bn drop in EU exports
In the first three months of this year, the UK food and drink sector has taken a £2 billion hit in lost exports to the EU, described by the industry as a ‘disaster’, according to new figures published on Friday (18 June). Ben Fox has more

Parliament still hopeful for CAP deal during Portugal’s EU presidency
The European Parliament still hopes to reach an agreement on the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform during Portugal’s presidency of the Council of the EU, according to the chair of the assembly’s agriculture committee. EURACTIV’s partner Lusa has more

CAP corner

Clock is ticking: Ahead of the resumption of negotiations over the future of the CAP, all of the top agricultural players have been in Portugal this week.

Little progress: However, according to an EU official, it seems that so far there has been little movement on the thorniest issues left for discussion, especially on the alignment of the national strategic plans with any future legislation arising from the European Green Deal, which delegations felt requires an impact assessment.

On the issue of eco-schemes concerns remain over the flexibilities on offer to avoid unspent funds reserved for eco-schemes, the official said.

No clear consensus:No clear conclusions were found either on the outstanding issues for the strategic plan regulations, such as GAEC 9, which stipulates the minimum percentage share of agricultural areas devoted to non-productive features, targeted payments, coupled support, ringfencing of funds from the second pillar, and tying funding with social conditions.

Four-leafed column: Following jumbo trilogue 25-28 May, the Council has released the latest four-column document indicating the state of play on the Strategic Plans Regulation and dated 11 June. Paragraphs with green borders are agreed, while paragraphs with orange borders remain open.

Next steps:The Portuguese presidency will now prepare the final Council position to be endorsed at the next Special Committee on Agriculture (SCA) meeting on 21 June, ahead of the final trilogue, provisionally scheduled for 24-25 June.

News from the bubble

End the Cage Age: After the European Parliament recently voted to ban cages in animal farming, agricultural Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski has offered his take on the matter, saying he is “very pleased” with the Parliament’s “very strong position” on this. Speaking during a recent interview with the Polish with daily newspaper “Rzeczpospolita” the Commissioner highlighted that there is no place for cages in farming system, while offering reassurances to everyone involved that there will certainly be fair support tools for phasing out this production and a “realistic” deadline

Small farmers speak up: This week in a press conference organised by European Coordination Via Campesina (ECVC), small and medium-scale farmers from across Europe put forward their demands for the next round of trilogue negotiations. The press conference gave the spotlight to family farmers, who make up 95% of the EU’s 10.5 million farms.1 For these farmers, it is clear that the approval and compulsory introduction of a number of specific measures is the only way to salvage some hope from the current inadequate and insufficient CAP reform

Geographical indications: The European Commission has approved the application for registration of Balatoni hal from Hungary and Cerise des Coteaux du Ventoux from France in the Register of Protected Geographical Indications (PGI)

Food System Sustainability Compass: The JRC recently released a new metrics framework developed to support decision-makers in assessing food system sustainability. It is designed to generate comprehensive food system insights that enable relevant actions and negotiation involving policymakers from different policy domains

Animal welfare: After month of preparatory hearings and workshops in the ANIT Committee, the co-rapporteurs Daniel Buda and Isabel Carvalhais presented their draft INI report on the investigation of alleged contraventions and maladministration in the application of Union law in relation to the protection of animals during transport within and outside the Union. The draft recommendations following the inquiry highlight the need for the EU to step up its efforts to ensure that animal welfare during transport is fully respected everywhere, at all times, and by every party concerned, from the origin until the final destination

Plant-based proteins: Horizon Europe has announced €32 million in funding for research into sustainable proteins – its biggest package of support covering plant-based, cultivated meat (grown from cells) and fermentation to date. The multi-annual EU funding framework, which will run from 2021 to 2027, contains three projects directly covering this area, after the Good Food Institute Europe and 21 other organisations sent an open letter calling on the European Commission to invest in sustainable protein R&D

Seasonal workers: The European Labour Authority launched a campaign this week to highlight the plight of seasonal workers, the need to ensure safe, fair working conditinons and raise awareness of seasonal workers’ rights and employers’ responsibilities

Agrifood news from the Capitals

FRANCE
French NGOs are demanding a ban on the weedkiller ‘prosulfocarb’ after it was found that organic cultures keep getting contaminated by the herbicide despite strict regulations, the French daily newspaper Le Monde revealed this week. Despite a rule in place since 2017 – prohibiting the deployment of prosulfocarb within 500 meters of a non-targeted (mainly organic) culture – residues of the highly volatile herbicide have been found on organic products, with levels up to a hundred times higher than allowed, making them impossible to sell. The French federation of organic agriculture (FNAB), the environmentalist organisation Générations futures as well as the farmers’ cooperative Biocer request a ban on authorisations for the controversial weedkiller.

GERMANY
The German Association of Female Farmers has called for the interests of women in farming to be given more attention in the national implementation of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Following the Bundestag’s adoption of a legislative package for implementing the coming CAP reform last week (10 June), the association said the laws did not take into account the “particular situation of women in agriculture”. “In order for the CAP to be successful, the measures have to be adjusted to the needs of women,” the association’s vice president, Juliane Vees, told the Bundestag. “For example, we need specific support programmes in terms of counselling, training and qualifications,” she added.

SWITZERLAND
Voters in Switzerland have rejected a proposal to ban the use of synthetic pesticides on farms and gardens, with 39.4% in favour of the ban and 60% opposed. If it had passed, the vote would have made Switzerland the first European country to be free from synthetic pesticides.

UK
UK farmers can now export poultry meat to Japan after a trade agreement was settled that is estimated to be worth up to £13 million per year, according to Farming UK. The government has secured market access to Japan for imports of UK poultry, in turn opening up new opportunities for farmers and producers. The agreement reduces tariffs on frozen chicken cuts from an average of 10% to zero over a number of years.

ROMANIA
Romania’s government approved in its weekly meeting a support scheme for growing vegetables under protected structures. The new minimis aid scheme has a total budget of 150 million lei (30.8 million euros) and aims to support the farming of peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes and aubergines. Farmers could receive 2,000 euros per 1,000 square meters of each crop.

BULGARIA
Farmers must be provided with adequate economic incentives from the EU to make environmental commitments, the Bulgarian Minister of Agriculture Hristo Bozukov urged this week during the informal AGRIFISH Council. He said this is the only way to compensate farmers for the imposed even higher environmental standards for agricultural products and food. The Bulgarian government argues that in the transition to a green economy, securing adequate funding is essential. This will also reduce the risk of abandonment of agricultural activities and depopulation of rural areas.The poorest member state urges the EU to look for more ways to reduce social and economic disparities between countries in the bloc, between regions and between producers. According to Minister Bozukov, the instruments of the EU’s CAP need to be more flexible.

Events

21 June – There is an event, “Towards inclusion and equal treatment for all mobile and migrant workers”, including agricultural seasonal workers

21 June – The ENVI Committee will debate the protection of pollinators and bee health with the Commission and the European Food Safety Authority

22 June – There is a EURACTIV virtual conference to discuss how progress can be made by moving away from a simple ’benefit-risk’ debate to engage in a collaborative discussion building on the Commission’s recent study on new genomic techniques

22 June – Join EURACTIV’s agrifood news team for a Twitter chat about the shape of the CAP to come

24 June – There is an event on international trade and the European Green Deal – “What trade rules for tomorrow’s agriculture?”. See here for details

24-25 June – There is the final trilogue on the CAP reform. Be sure to check EURACTIV where we will keep you up to date with all the developments on the reform

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