We ended last year with a look to the future, and are starting this one by revisiting an old friend from the past – that’s right, the B-word rears its ugly head yet again.
Finally, an eleventh-hour deal with London was struck on Christmas Eve, offering some hope and sorely needed security for the agrifood sector, who warned of the dire consequences in the case of a no-deal Brexit.
The UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement, which provisionally entered into force on 1 January this year, was, by all means, a massive achievement for the two negotiating teams and provides a basis upon which to build a longer-term relationship between the two parties.
“I think it’s a big step in the right direction. If we’re talking about trade in food, from the EU point of view, it’s in our interest to ensure that we have an organised transition to the new relationship with the UK,” Italian MEP Herbert Dorfmann highlighted in the AGRI Committee meeting dedicated to the issue this week.
So far, so good.
But, as the past two tumultuous weeks have shown, the deal may be signed and sealed, but there’s a number of issues when it comes to agrifood deliveries.
With the UK fishing industry reporting a £1m daily loss after Brexit due to “crippling” new bureaucratic costs, the inability to prove place of origin leading to some unwelcome and unexpected tariffs, and warnings over a looming crisis in Northern Ireland who face empty supermarket shelves, it’s becoming increasingly clear that Brexit issue will continue to dominate discussions well into 2021.
In this week’s AGRI Commitee meeting, Renew Europe AGRI coordinator Ulrike Müller raised the issue of how to ensure the deal is being complied with.
“I’d like to know how are we going to check that the agreement is correctly applied? And what do we do if it isn’t?” she questioned.
Green MEP Martin Martin Häusling added: “I think we’re going to see the worst of it when we see the amount of bureaucracy and how difficult is going to be to make sure it’s complied with. The UK would have to toe the line, but who would actually check compliance?”
Right on cue, UK PM Boris Johnson has made it clear that he would not hesitate to break the terms of the agreement in order to see Northern Ireland’s shelves restocked, which means we may well get an answer to such questions sooner than expected.
Going forward, there are several other obvious sticking points signalling trouble on the horizon.
Making its agrifood priorities loud and clear, England wasted no time in launching a consultation on gene editing with the, pretty brazen, intention to divert from the EU position on the matter in a bid to unlock “substantial benefits” for the sector and the environment.
Likewise, despite an explicit government pledge to adhere to the EU line on neonicotinoids, the UK has temporarily lifted a ban on the controversial class of pesticides which mounting evidence suggests detriments bee populations.
The UK has also given no guarantees of protection of EU geographical indications (GIs), as the agreement enables both parties to set their own rules and the future directions of their respective schemes, something that caused considerable consternation among MEPs, who raised concerns about protecting EU agrifood products.
So what’s next?
The agreement has been adopted by the UK Parliament but has yet to be approved by the European Parliament and also requires unanimous approval in the EU Council.
Both steps are expected to happen by the end of February, although members of the AGRI Committee urged caution in ratifying the deal.
While Müller highlighted that the AGRI Committee welcomed the agreement, she cautioned that MEPs should take their time to look at the agreement closely without feeling time pressure.
“We know that we will not levy six billion euros worth of tariffs, but we do have to protect the interests of the European farmers,” she stressed.
Agrifood news this week
Portuguese presidency to handle agriculture ‘with eyes on the future’
The Portuguese presidency of the EU Council is committed to doing everything to conclude negotiations on the reform of the EU’s massive farming subsidies programme without overlooking the transition toward a more sustainable food system, the Portuguese farm minister told EURACTIV in an exclusive interview.
2021: The year of the CAP
What does 2021 have in store for the world of agrifood? Find out in this lookahead piece from EURACTIV’s agrifood team.
MEP: European food sovereignty is the real issue at stake in CAP talks
Faced with the challenges of climate change and the public health problems posed by the use of pesticides, Europe must now rebuild its food sovereignty, according to socialist lawmaker Eric Andrieu. Gerardo Fortuna has more.
Commission at odds with Parliament over GM crop authorisations
The EU executive looks set to press ahead with a “new approach” to genetically modified (GM) crop authorisations in the wake of persistent lack of political support for the technology in the European Parliament. Natasha Foote has the story.
UK launches consultation on gene editing, signals divergence from EU
In one of its first post-Brexit moves, England has launched a consultation on gene editing in a bid to unlock “substantial benefits” for the sector and the environment, but the move could put the country at odds with the EU on the matter. See here for more.
Commission lists agroecology, animal welfare as core environmental practices
The European Commission has unveiled the first list of environmentally friendly practices that could receive EU funding in the next Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the EU’s farming subsidy programme. Gerardo Fortuna has the details.
Grub’s up: Insects could soon be on the menu after EFSA green light
Mealworms are safe for human consumption according to a new opinion by the EU Food Safety Agency (EFSA), paving the way for the first EU-wide approval. Read more.
|Food origin label: EU countries steer Commission toward animal products
Agriculture ministers from EU countries have prompted the European Commission to prioritise products of animal origin if a mandatory indication of food origin is going to be included in the upcoming proposal for EU-wide food labelling. See here for more.
Plant breeding sector split over potential of patenting to spur innovation
Critics of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy’s (CAP) for its effect on developing African countries have an exaggerated view of its importance outside Europe, although some specific areas and particular products remain a cause for concern, according to a CAP expert. Read more.
CAP gets too much flak for effects on developing countries, says expert
The European Commission adopted its intellectual property plan in November, hailed as a driver of future growth, but the plant breeding sector remains divided over the potential of intellectual property rights for spurring on much-needed agricultural innovation. Natasha Foote has more.
Agrifood news from the capitals
German environment minister Svenja Schulze wants to bring her agency’s (BMU) draft of the new Insect Protection Act before the Bundestag, something that will likely cause contention within Germany’s governing coalition. In December, the cabinet failed to reach an agreement on the legislation due to disagreements between the BMU and the Agriculture Ministry (BMEL) despite promises to deliver on insect protection by 2020. She told reporters at the Agriculture Congress on Wednesday (13 January) that she will give the negotiations two weeks before referring the draft to the coalition committee in the Bundestag. (Sarah Lawton | EURACTIV.de)
Highly pathogenic and deadly bird flu is spreading in France, with the southwestern part of the country particularly hard hit. Preventive poultry slaughter can now be ordered by the prefect throughout the most affected departments, as stipulated in the recent decree published on Tuesday, January 12 in the Journal officiel. This decision was taken to counter “the rapid spread of the virus responsible for highly pathogenic avian influenza subtype H5N8 in poultry and farmed poultry,” the government said in the decree. In the past four years, the region has experienced three episodes of avian influenza. But this one is “perhaps more contagious than the one in 2016-2017, which had brought the poultry industry to a standstill,” acknowledged Agriculture Minister Julien Denormandie, who was on a visit in the Gers on Monday 11 January. (Lucie Duboua-Lorsch| EURACTIV.fr)
The Scottish fishing industry is losing out on £1 million per day due to the “crippling” costs of new bureaucratic requirements to export their catch to the EU, prompting industry leaders to warn that without immediate government support there could be “permanent casualties”. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has insisted that the delays were “only temporary” and promised that the UK government would provide compensation for fisheries firms who risk losing out. Benjamin Fox more (EURACTIV.com)
Ireland is set to receive the biggest slice of the Brext recovery fund pie, with over €1 billion allocated to the country, or around 25%, of the Brexit fund. The news was welcomed by the Irish agrifood sector, with Paul Kelly, director of Food Drink Ireland, calling it the “most exposed sector of the most exposed country”, highlighting that it has been hit by many additional costs. “We welcome the money but we need to make sure it’s spent in the proper fashion,” he told EURACTIV, calling for investments to increase the competitiveness and innovation capability of the sector, as well as on improving customs skills. (Natasha Foote | EURACTIV.com)
Italy’s agriculture sector has lost its ‘head’ in the wake of the on-going government crisis, which was triggered by the resignation of the farming minister Teresa Bellanova and Elena Bonetti, minister for gender equality. The last measure she approved as minister was a €31.5 programme for sustainable agriculture regeneration in an agri-food district hit by Xylella fastidiosa, a plant pest that is decimating olive trees in Puglia region. (Gerardo Fortuna | EURACTIV.com)
Poland’s agricultural and food exports increased by 7% year on year after the first ten months of 2020 to € 28.3 billion, according to a national agriculture support centre (KOWR). At the same time, Poland’s agricultural and food imports increased by 5% year on year to €18.5 billion. Most Polish food products were exported to EU countries, with their value amounting to €22.7 billion or 80% of the total. Germany topped the list of Polish food importers, followed by Great Britain, the Netherlands, France and Italy. (Mateusz Kucharczyk | EURACTIV.pl)
18 – 22 January – There is the Global Forum for Food and Agriculture, an international conference on agri-food policy issues, which will focus on the topic of how to feed the world in times of pandemics and climate change and will feature EU agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski as well as German agriculture minister Julia Klöckner. See here for details.
19 January – The Commission have organised their first remote stakeholder event to consult and receive input into the evaluation on the sustainable use of pesticides directive. The meeting is organised in cooperation with Portugal’s Council Presidency. More details here