German Agriculture Minister Julia Klöckner has urged the European Commission to insist on more consistent sustainability standards when negotiating future free trade agreements with third countries.
“You cannot call for a Green Deal for European agriculture on the one hand, but then not address this in a sustainable manner in the free trade agreements with third countries,” Klöckner said after a meeting with regional agriculture ministers on 1 October, referring to the EU’s flagship climate and environmental policy.
Raising standards domestically while not upholding the same ambition for imports would put the competitiveness of domestic farmers at risk, according to Klöckner.
“Therefore, my personal demand is very clear: that whenever we enter trade agreements with third countries, (…) the question of sustainability always has to play a role for the Commission,” she added.
During the three-day conference between Klöckner and the state ministers, the question of how to make the EU-Mercosur free trade agreement more environmentally, climate, and animal friendly had been one of the topics on the agenda.
The planned deal between the EU27 and the Mercosur countries, Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, has repeatedly come under fire from agrifood stakeholders and member states.
The German Farmers Association (DBV), too, had called for “fundamental adjustments to the EU’s trade policy” ahead of the meeting.
“Agricultural imports from third countries cannot undermine the high and cost-intensive EU standards on consumer, environmental, climate and animal protection,” the organisation said in a position paper, adding that the EU-Mercosur agreement was “exemplary of a misguided trade policy”.
The DBV called for the agreement to be re-evaluated in light of its environmental and climate impact and aligned with the European Green Deal.
Restructuring livestock farming
During their meeting, the federal and state ministers also discussed restructuring the animal husbandry sector, with a view to making it more animal-friendly and sustainable.
“No one disputes the necessity of the restructuring anymore, it is now a question of the concrete way to get there,” the chair of the conference, Wolfram Günther, has said.
According to Günther, the regional ministers were “very much in agreement” that livestock numbers should stop growing and that the transition towards more animal-friendly husbandry should be promoted more strongly instead.
Klöckner said she held “sympathy for an animal welfare levy” on animal products in order to help support farmers financially in their transition to better husbandry standards.
On top of that, the ministers had also agreed to work on the introduction of a state animal welfare label, announced Till Backhaus, agriculture minister of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.
Klöckner, however, later clarified that this was not a binding decision but merely a political declaration of intent.
Klöckner, who is a caretaker minister following the 26 September federal election, had failed during her term in office to introduce a voluntary state animal welfare label. Her coalition partner, the Social Democrats (SPD), had blocked her advances and demanded mandatory labelling instead.
Tight schedule for CAP strategic plan
Klöckner also announced that she intends to present the regulations for the implementation of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) by mid-October. Since the formal legal acts on CAP reform are still pending at the EU level, the ministry is “ahead of the curve,” Klöckner said.
State ministers have already urged Klöckner to speed up the process, pointing to the time needed to coordinate their regional plans with that of the federal government before Germany submits its National Strategic Plan to the Commission by the end of December.
Industry associations also joined the call.
“We are doing cultivation planning and we basically need to know in the summer of 2022 what the planning for 2023 looks like,” said the DBV’s secretary general, Bernhard Krüsken.
The organisation has also called for improvements to the catalogue of so-called eco-schemes, used to reward farmers for their environmentally- and climate-friendly practices.
The DBV urged the ministers to set attractive premium levels for the eco-schemes and introduce additional measures to promote grassland and forage production.
“We will submit the draft to the associations by 15 October and then we will see what comes back,” Klöckner said in response to a question by EURACTIV, adding that for grasslands, it is also necessary to keep in mind “what has a chance in Brussels and what does not”.
But associations remained concerned about the tight timetable.
Johann Rathke of the environmental organisation WWF told EURACTIV Germany that the additional time pressure might result in sidelining input from associations.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]