EU market protection, farmers’ income dominate French livestock summit talks

"Who can understand that we import products into Europe that should not be produced there? It's against the environment and it destroys our agriculture," France's agrifood minister Julien Denormandie tweeted ahead of the summit. [Ian Spencer Langsdon/epa]

During France’s upcoming EU Council presidency, reciprocity will be the name of the game for its Agriculture Minister Julien Denormandie, who took the opportunity during a recent agricultural summit to emphasise the importance of protecting the European market and farmers’ wages. EURACTIV France reports.

France’s livestock summit began in Clermont-Ferrand on Tuesday (5 October), where the subject of unfair competition dominated debates, just a few months before France takes over the rotating EU Council presidency in January.

Denormandie promised to raise the issue of so-called ‘mirror clauses’ at the EU level during those six months at the helm.

“Who can understand that we import products into Europe that should not be produced there? It’s against the environment and it destroys our agriculture,” he tweeted on Monday.

With the European Green Deal and the new Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) imposing more rigorous environmental and health standards across Europe, societal demands are growing to show greater respect for animal welfare.

French MEP Jérémy Decerle from the centrist Renew Europe political group told EURACTIV that Europe’s efforts should also be reciprocated in trade deals with other countries. “If Europe continues to increase the quality of its food, this will require reciprocity in international trade”.

Another French Renew MEP, Irène Tolleret, told EURACTIV that the European Green Deal should be tweaked “to remove the unrealistic elements” and make it a “concrete, pragmatic policy that respects what already exists”.

According to her, the European agricultural world is ready to meet the sustainability requirements formulated by European Commission’s Green Deal. But farmers must continue to be supported in order to achieve Europe’s green goals, she argued, saying this will avoid a decline in EU production and increased imports from abroad that would only result in more greenhouse gas emissions overall.

“The biggest hole in the racket is the protection of the European market,” Tolleret said. “We cannot implement this policy of the Green Deal if we do not have the means to protect our market.”

Without means to support the implementation of the Green Deal, we will “create a two-tier food system and we will kill the most fragile agricultural sectors,” she warned.

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Farmers’ income

Another burning issue related to farmers’ income, the question of fair price negotiations between farmers and mass distribution in France was raised again during the summit.

On Monday, a day before the summit, French MPs and Senators adopted a bill known as “Loi Egalim 2”, which aims to protect farmers’ income.

“Our job is to make sure everyone respects the new rules of the game,” Denormandie said at the summit on Tuesday in reference to the proposed law, which aims at giving farmers more room for manoeuvre when they negotiate the sale prices of their products with supermarket chains.

The minister admitted that the law currently in force (“Loi Egalim”) “has not been sufficient at all” to guarantee acceptable incomes for French farmers.

“We know today that a producer is not paid enough because the price is too heavily absorbed by the industrialists and supermarkets,” Denormandie told radio broadcaster France Bleu during the summit.

Denormandie also said he wishes cattle marketing to be subject to contracts from 2022, according to reports by agriculture newspaper Réussir.

While this news was welcomed by the National Bovine Federation, which sees it as the best way to restore transparency in commercial relations and allow producers to have a say in the negotiation of prices for their animals, breeders were not all in favour.

In a statement published on Wednesday, the Coordination Rurale union called for the contractualisation to be voluntary.

“If the contracts were price-bearing, farmers would move towards this approach of their own accord,” said the head of the union’s meat section, Alexandre Armel. “Otherwise, [contractualisation] is still preventing them from taking control of their marketing,” he added.

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