Unfair competition not top concern in green farming ambitions, says EU official

The Commission official highlighted that European farmers have other competitive advantages on the global stage, including the high quality of food produced in the EU and the fact that there are “zero problems in terms of public health”. [SHUTTERSTOCK]

The discussion about pushing forward the green agenda globally should put less emphasis on the unfair competition for farmers that may arise as a consequence, a Commission official said recently, but the claim was quickly refuted by the farming community.

Highlighting the importance of a sustainable farming system for the benefit of all, Diego Canga Fano, principal adviser at the European Commission’s DG AGRI, told a recent EURACTIV event that when explaining the benefits of farming more sustainably, we should “insist less on the idea that we need to protect our farmers from unfair competition”.

Although he conceded there is some valid concern to the argument, he said it was more important that the “sustainability fight should be in the interest of the whole planet, and not only of Western European countries.”

He pointed out that European farmers have “two huge competitive advantages” when on the global stage – the high quality of food produced in the EU and the fact that there are “zero problems in terms of public health”.

“The food we produce here, the drink we produce here, is outstanding, and with no public health problems. And that gives us a huge competitive advantage when we export,” Canga Fano said.

Urging stakeholders not to “forget the bigger picture,” he added that the EU is a net exporter by a large differential.

“So we can discuss unfair competition. I think there is a point there, there is an issue of unfair competition. But don’t forget the global picture. We are net exporters,” he stressed.

MEP: Green Deal should ensure EU food sector's competitiveness

With the new European Green Deal, all actors across the food chain will need to adjust to new EU standards. But policymakers also have to make sure EU industry is protected against unfair competition, MEP Maria Spyraki told EURACTIV.com.

However, this was refuted by the EU farming sector.

Pointing to the need for sustainability transitions to rest on economic, social, and environmental pillars, Timothy Cullinan, first vice-president of EU farmers association COPA and president of the Irish Farmers’ Association, highlighted that it is hard for farmers to produce good quality food at a reasonable price in Europe while competing directly with cheaper products coming into the EU.

“We want to work with the Green Deal, we want to work with the European Commission, but we want a fair level playing field as well,” he said.

Echoing these sentiments, Arnold Puech d’Alissac, member of the section for agriculture, rural development and environment at the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), an advisory EU civil society body, highlighted that the idea of a level playing field and fair competition is “fundamental”.

“When we play rugby, we play with the same rules. When we play trade, we need to play also with the same rules, it’s something fundamental,” he said, adding that when other countries, such as the US, use techniques which are banned in Europe, it is “not fair to be directly in competition with them”.

Speaking during a recent press conference on the situation of agricultural markets, Christiane Lambert, president of COPA, warned that, given that multilateralism is the “cornerstone” of the trade negotiation strategy of the EU when it comes to agriculture, it is vitally important that “imports into the EU correspond to the EU’s requirements”.

This is even more important today with this “crescendo” of requirements facing EU farmers as a result of the Green Deal, she added.

“The Green Deal has confirmed the ambition of making Europe an example when it comes to the green transition. This comes with considerable requirements for us farmers. But what we can’t understand is that, if so much is demanded of us, why we have to compete with countries that work to very different standards that are way below ours,” she said.

Green farming ambitions must not lose sight of bigger picture, experts warn

While policies aiming to green the EU’s farming system should be welcomed as a step in the right direction, they must also show coherence and understanding of the global picture, experts have warned.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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