A Commission initiative to reduce cadmium contamination has landed on the international trade committee’s desk at the European Parliament. Some MEPs believe this move could decrease the choice of sources of fertiliser imports across the world and give countries like Russia too much market power.
The move is part of the EU’s Circular Economy Package. The regulatory proposal aims to foster the use of fertilisers that use organic or recycled components by levelling their playing field with traditional fertilisers.
Planned EU rules aim to facilitate their access to the CE-marked label (which means that the product meets all the legal requirements and can be traded freely across the EU), thus incentivising their large-scale production. This, explains the proposal, would altogether reduce the EU’s high dependency on imported phosphate rocks, a ‘critical raw material’, in EU parlance, used in traditional fertiliser products.
As most imported phosphate rocks contain cadmium, a highly toxic heavy metal, the Commission’s proposal also intends to reduce the cadmium content in CE-marked phosphate fertilisers to address “contamination of soil and food through fertiliser use”. The plan is to reduce the limit from 60 mg/kg to 40 mg/kg after three years, and to 20 mg/kg after 12 years.
Rapporteur for the opinion, Polish Civic Plaform MEP Jarosław Wałęsa (EPP) proposed in a working document that “INTA’s main concern (be) the impact of proposed limits of contaminants, mainly cadmium”.
“Strict limits will render most imported phosphate rock – used in standard fertiliser production – unusable and will hinder certain fertiliser production by the EU industry,” said Wałęsa.
With the EU’s critical import dependency on phosphate, this would de facto substantially reduce the range of available imports for the traditional fertiliser industry.
Higher–quality phosphate rock imports are mainly available from Russia and Morocco. This means that EU producers could face “market blackmail”, as Wałęsa put it, because Russia, for instance, competes with the EU industry in marketing finished fertilisers on the EU market.
The draft INTA opinion therefore suggests that “market and trade effects of such limits should be monitored to ensure stable and affordable access to raw materials…… The Commission should ensure that foreign suppliers providing both raw materials and finished fertilising products to the Union do not abuse their market position by restricting the Union industry’s access to raw materials and rendering its finished fertilizing products uncompetitive”.
The system would also allow to keep an eye on other exporting developing countries.
World Trade Organisation conformity
“It is possible that this proposal is WTO non-compliant because of the lack of scientific evidence,” said Wałęsa. The MEP proposes a mechanism whereby the European regulation would be adjourned should a WTO member lodge a complaint about the regulation.
The Commission rejected the idea there could be a breach of the WTO principles. In addition, non CE-marked products will still be allowed on the EU market. “The Commission’s proposal already allows member states to make derogations to allow more contaminated phosphate on their national market, but without the fertilisers being CE-marked,” a Commission representative told MEPs.