EU imports of soy should be reduced, says Agriculture Commissioner

Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski speaking at the press conference after the first day of the Agrifish Council on Monday (16 December). [EU]

The EU should gradually go in the direction of reducing soy imports from third countries, although not overnight, by supporting the production of protein plants in Europe, the EU’s Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski said on Monday (16 December).

Last week, the new Polish Commissioner mentioned soybeans imports from the Americas when he was addressing the issue of reducing the scale of long-distance transport of feed or agricultural products in compliance with the new EU food policy, the Farm to Fork strategy (F2F).

Embedded in Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s flagship European Green Deal, the main principle of the F2F is to shorten as much as possible the entire agri-food chain,  which includes support for projects aimed at replacing long transport routes for feedstocks and animals.

Asked by EURACTIV to confirm his position on soybean imports, Wojciechowski said that the EU should definitely go in this direction and that there is space for that in the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

“We cannot change it overnight, but we could systematically reduce the imports of soy, also by promoting homegrown feed productions,” he said.

For Wojciechowski, it is essential to support EU farmers who keep their own animals and use their own feed produced in their own farm, as it is clearly good for the climate and the environment.

“This reduction will take time and will happen gradually. I’m not going to ban soy now,” Wojciechowski concluded.

However, curbing soybean imports clashes, in principle, with the trade policy put in place by the past European Commission.

In July 2018, then Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker agreed to import more soybeans from the US in order to calm down a potentially disastrous dispute on steel and aluminium tariffs with Washington and open negotiations to strengthen trade relations.

Soybeans bring appeasement to EU-US trade war

The EU’s pledge to import more soybeans from US farmers was the ‘dealmaker’ in the agreement between European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and US President Donald Trump to stop the dispute and open trade talks, EU sources told EURACTIV.

Consequently, from July 2018 to mid-April 2019, the imports of US soybeans increased by 121% compared to the same period in the previous year and currently, the US is Europe’s number one supplier of soybeans, with a share of 72%.

At the start of this year, the Commission authorised the import of soybeans also for producing biofuels, coming to the US’s rescue after trade tensions with China, where soybean exports from the US dropped to zero in the previous months.

Soybeans are also one of Mercosur’s biggest exports to the EU and will be a key aspect in the approval procedure of a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the EU and the South American countries.

Duties that Mercosur currently imposes on exports of soybean products to the EU are expected to be reduced or even eliminated, a Commission official told a recent technical briefing.

For the clean mobility NGO Transport and Environment (T&E), the Mercosur agreement could make soy a more attractive feedstock for biodiesel producers in Europe, raising climate issue as soy expansion has led to significant deforestation.

In a controversial move, earlier this year the European Commission decided to spare soybeans from being identified at high  risks of indirect land-use change (iLUC) crops

Biofuels: Commission blacklists palm oil, throws soybeans lifeline

In an eagerly-awaited decision, the European Commission last week categorised palm oil as a high-emitting biofuel crop but provided some controversial exemptions for smallholders and spared soybeans from the delegated act’s provisions.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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