Agrifood Brief: So long and thanks for all the lobster

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

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11 - CAP, honey market, recovery fund rollout

 

After four years of growing tensions, can food bring the two shores of the Atlantic closer together?

Throughout human history, food has had the unique capacity to unite people who differ.

Convivial occasions dominated by food have traditionally marked the celebration of the birth of new alliances or brought former enemies back together.

This seems to be the case for trade relationships too.

Although the tariff war between the EU and the US is still raging on, a glimmer of hope is looming – and, in keeping with traditions, the first attempt at calming things down involves food.

On Monday (9 November), the EU confirmed additional tariffs of 25% on US agricultural goods in retaliation for a similar move from the Trump administration.

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.

Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis – who has previously been warned not to forget agriculture – pointed out that European countries are not escalating anything, but simply mirroring the US approach.

The EU would be ready to suspend tariffs if the US was willing to do the same on their side, and if new Biden administration will take a step back from Trump’s hardline trade stance.

Biden’s victory in the US election has been hailed as a new hope for the struggling transatlantic relationship.

The day after the announcement of his victory, there was an almost immediate reaction from European People’s Party (EPP) leader, Manfred Weber, who was supposed to run the Commission and one of the biggest proponents of the failed US-EU trade deal, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)

He told the Italian daily Repubblica that the EU should offer President-elect Biden a new transatlantic partnership based on a new trade deal and a common approach to China.

If the transatlantic relationship seems close to restarting, the first olive branch could come in the form of a smaller trade deal.

This week, the European Parliament’s trade committee (INTA) backed a mini-trade deal to remove EU tariffs on US lobsters.

Although the deal still needs to be approved by the whole European Parliament in late November, it has been interpreted as a gesture of goodwill from the EU’s side and a message to Biden.

“Let’s move forward and use this deal as a stepping stone for more constructive transatlantic dialogue,” said socialist MEP Bernd Lange, who chairs the INTA committee.

Of course, it is not quite the TTIP, but it is still a welcome gift. The US lobster sector is suffering from the Chinese tariffs imposed in 2018 and the effects of the Canada-EU trade deal (CETA), which makes Canadian lobsters more convenient for Europeans.

In general, agricultural commodities have proved to be a useful appeasement tool even during the Trump administration.

In July 2018, the EU agreed to make the US the new leading soybean supplier for Europe, as part of the implementation of the Joint Statement, under which the former Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Trump agreed to increase trade in several areas in July.

The EU also offered to ease trade tensions with China by authorising imports of soybeans from the US to produce biofuels.

There’s still time to make peace and build a stronger alliance. But for now, thanks for all the lobsters and soy.

(G.F.)

Agrifood news this week

EU farming recovery fund to be rolled out from 2021
A provisional agreement has been struck on the rollout of recovery funds in the EU agricultural sector, which will make a total of €10 billion available for farmers from 2021 up until the end of 2022. Natasha Foote reports.

Final CAP deal can still be fit for purpose, von der Leyen replies to Greens
Although certain aspects of both the European Parliament and the Council’s positions on the EU’s farming subsidies programme may raise eyebrows, upcoming negotiations can still result in a reform that makes the programme fit for purpose, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has said in reply to a letter from the Greens. Gerardo Fortuna has more.

EU honey harvests feel the sting of climate change with record losses
Honey harvests dropped by 40% this year, on the back of extreme weather conditions, according to EU farmers association COPA-COGECA, who sounded the alarm and warned that the sector urgently needs help from the European Commission. Read more here.

Spread of COVID in minks could hamper potential vaccine, warns EU disease centre
The spread of COVID variants via mink farms could compromise the efficacy of a vaccine, according to a rapid risk assessment published by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) on Thursday (12 November). Natasha Foote has the story.

East German agriculture still reeling, 30 years after reunification
The effects of Germany’s 1990 reunification have been particularly felt by farmers in eastern Germany whose land was suddenly privatised and left to market forces. Some problems persist to this day, 30 years later, and new ones have since cropped up. EURACTIV Germany reports.

 

“I have to honestly admit that I was very disappointed. Disappointed that the Council and the European Parliament have not shown more ambitions, that they are sticking to an agricultural policy that is not sustainable, that cannot continue like this.”

 

Frans Timmermans, executive vice-president for the European Green Deal, in an interview this week 

 

News from the bubble

Trilogue: The first trilogue meeting took place this week on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform between the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission. Both executive Vice-President Timmermans and Commissioner Wojciechowski represented the Commission at the first inter-institutional meeting.

US tariffs: The European Commission’s regulation increasing tariffs on US exports into the EU, which includes a number of agrifood products and is worth $4 billion, was published this week. The countermeasures have been agreed by EU Member States since the US has not yet provided the basis for a negotiated settlement, which would include an immediate removal of US tariffs on EU exports in the Airbus WTO case.

Pig slaughter: On Thursday (12 November), the European Parliament voted in favour of a preparatory action aimed at finding alternatives to high-concentration CO2 stunning or killing of pigs, which is currently the most frequently used in all major EU pig slaughterhouses.

 

Agrifood news from the capitals

 

ROMANIA
On Monday (9 November), many major retailers signed a charter in which they vowed to pro Food markets have become the latest battleground of Romanian politicians, as the government has decided to stop the activity of food markets in closed spaces, as one of the measures to restrict the spread of the coronavirus. However, the news was not welcomed by either the Parliament or food producers, especially given that supermarkets have been allowed to remain open. Bogdan Neagu has more.

FRANCE
On Monday (9 November), many major retailers signed a charter in which they vowed to promote local French agrifood products in shops. According to agriculture minister Julien Denormandie, the aim of this initiative is “to perpetuate this trend towards the consumption of fresh and local products” observed during the first confinement. “Local shops are already doing this. It is therefore necessary to reinforce the promotion of these products on the shelves of the supermarkets,” he said. This initiative concerns mainly raw products, including fruit, vegetables, meat, dairy products. Moreover,  distributors also promised to put an end to “processed in France” logos on products which do not contain any French raw materials. (Lucie Duboua-LorschEURACTIV.fr)

GERMANY
Agriculture minister Julia Klöckner (CDU) presented Germany’s report on the development of rural areas on Wednesday (11 November), which found that these areas have helped cushion the economic blow of COVID-19. “As with the financial and economic crisis of 2009, the decentralised settlement and economic structures are basically proving their worth again in the Covid 19 pandemic and should therefore be secured and strengthened,” she said. The study finds that 42% of Germany’s population lives in small or medium-sized towns in rural areas, and that half of the country’s economic output is generated there. Klöckner is therefore calling for more investment in rural areas, particularly in the areas of infrastructure, education, and other local services. Some of this funding is expected to come from the EU budget, and these areas are expected to see a 5% budget increase in 2021 and 2022 compared to 2020 (Sarah Lawton | EURACTIV.de)

UK
The UK’s landmark Agriculture Bill became law on Thursday (12 November). The legislation sets out how farmers and land managers in England will be rewarded in the future with public money for “public goods” – such as better air and water quality or soil health, under the Environmental Land Management scheme. This will replace the direct payments that UK farmers have been receiving under the CAP. A government statement on the news said that this will “provide a boost to industry after years of inefficient and overly bureaucratic policy dictated to farmers by the EU”.  (Natasha Foote | EURACTIV.com)

IRELAND
Ireland’s agriculture minister Charlie McConalogue announced this week that he has written to more than 20,000 agrifood companies to remind them of the significant changes that will occur come 1st January 2021,  regardless of the outcome of the EU-UK negotiations. In his letter, the minister called on businesses to urgently prepare for customs and regulatory changes, saying that there “will be delays in the movement of goods compared to current Single Market-supported arrangements – and immediately take the practical steps necessary to prepare for these changes.” (Natasha Foote | EURACTIV.com)

POLAND
The minister of agriculture, Grzegorz Puda, has ordered veterinary services to carry out tests on mink farms for coronavirus and appealed to the owners to monitor the state of health of the animals as well as the employees who serve them. The news comes after the Danish government decided to carry out a mass culling of minks farmed in the country after they were found to carry coronavirus. (Mateusz Kucharczyk | EURACTIV.pl)

On our radar

An evaluation support report on the EU mandatory indication of country of origin labelling for certain meats was published this week by the European Commission. It found that rules on the mandatory indication of the country of origin has proved to be an important piece of information for consumers while also being reliable.

The European Commission published its monthly summary of articles on food fraud and adulteration. Food fraud cases included: alcoholic beverages, wine, fish and fish products, cereals, bakery products, milk and milk products, herbs and spices, meat and meat products, fruits and vegetables, honey, and eggs.

Events

15 November – The OECD are holding a ‘creative lab’ for policy-makers and practitioners on the future of tourism in natural areas post-pandemic. All details can be found here.

16 November – There is a webinar on advocating for transformational change for agro-food systems, exploring concepts such as regenerative agriculture, agroecology, and organic. More details here.

16 November – DG AGRI will hold its sixth annual EU conference on financial instruments for agriculture and rural development, based on the findings of the fi-compass study on the financing needs in the agriculture and the agri-food sectors in the EU member states. More information here.

18 November –  The EPP Group’s Christine Schneider and Herbert Dorfmann  are hosting a remote hearing in the European Parliament discussing ways how to transform what European citizens eat, how they farm and protect nature.

 

 

 

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