“Agriculture as sovereignty” under the French presidency of the EU

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Less than a month from the start of the French presidency of the Council of the European Union, Paris is strongly criticized by some of its European counterparts for having sought to postpone the deadlines for the free trade agreements with Chile and New Zealand. Zealand.

While some EU countries seem in a hurry to make these deals, in their rush they may not have fully appreciated the impact that ill-conceived deals could have on European agriculture.

As France has made clear, European farmers are urged to comply with higher safety and environmental standards than their foreign competitors, so products that do not comply with EU rules are nonetheless widely available in European markets.

Let us be clear: there should be no question of weakening these standards.

In fact, they still need to be strengthened in many areas (particularly with regard to pesticides and the contribution of agriculture to decarbonisation).

On the other hand, a coherent political approach requires that non-European agricultural suppliers adhere to the same criteria of food safety, quality and environmental protection as European producers, with European governments having the possibility of establishing ” mirror clauses ”in trade agreements to force them to do so.

In the absence of these conditions, Europe will not only subject its farmers to unfair competition; it will also make it even more difficult for European agriculture to meet the EU’s own standards.

Moreover, farmers are not the only ones suffering from the imbalance between standards inside and outside the European bloc. Under the status quo, European consumers are being sold products related to destructive and unsustainable agricultural practices banned in Europe.

Two years ago, for example, a report from the French Senate found that between 10 and 25 percent of agricultural products imported by France do not meet European standards. As environmental experts of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany highlighted last year in Nature, the EU – by authorizing these products on the single market – “effectively externalizes environmental damage to other countries, while taking credit for green policies in its country”.

One of the most glaring examples of this trend is the catastrophic deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon, driven largely by intensive livestock farming encouraged by the Bolsonaro government.

Despite Brazil’s promises To combat illegal deforestation, the rate at which the Amazon rainforests are being cleared is actually increasing, with 877 km2 lost last October alone.

Before Bolsonaro took office, Brazil had an average of 6,500 km2 of forest cleared each year; since the populist brand took office, that average has risen to 10,500.

Indeed, many countries with which the EU signs free trade agreements – including Mercosur countries such as Brazil as well as the United States, Australia and New Zealand – use “pesticides, herbicides and genetically modified (GM) organisms strictly limited or banned in the EU.

In terms of breeding, these regulatory differences could have a direct impact on the health impact of products on European tables. As a recent report by the Veblen Institute explained, meat imports from countries like Brazil, the United States and Canada routinely violate EU rules against the use of growth hormones, animal feed and inhumane treatment and transport of animals.

Early impetus at EU level

Although this problem has an impact on the whole of Europe, France has been the most vocal voice for change. Emmanuel Macron declared last May that “we defend above all the mirror clauses, which will allow us to see our own requirements respected by those with whom we do business”.

Regarding the agreement between the European Union and Mercosur, of which France is blocking ratification, Macron added that: “in South America, we have countries which are deforestation, which do not impose the same limitations as us on phytosanitary products, which do not have the same work requirements as us.

French Agriculture Minister Julien Denormandie also argued that the EU should “export its standards and stop imposing foreign standards on its own single market”.

Despite the tensions linked to the current FTA negotiations, these arguments are starting to gain ground in Brussels and other European capitals.

In October, the French, Spanish and Austrian agriculture ministers wrote a joint editorial calling on the EU to change its approach and become a benchmark in international trade.

In November, the European Commission responded with a draft regulation to ban imports of products such as beef, palm oil and coffee if they are linked to deforestation, saying the proposal would put in place “Mandatory due diligence rules for operators” requiring them to “collect the geographic coordinates of the land where the goods they place on the market have been produced”.

Unfortunately, like the French agricultural sector underlined thereafter, companies that import beef from countries like Brazil will have no way of ensuring that their products actually comply with these rules, as Brazil does not trace cattle from birth to slaughter. – as required by Europe and carried out by tools such as the Trade and export control system (TRACES).

Moral and strategic imperative

By influencing and shaping agricultural standards in other markets, the EU can achieve several of its own strategic objectives, including advancing the fight against climate change and helping to prevent future pandemics.

While protecting their own consumers and farmers, European governments can also raise food and environmental quality standards abroad, demonstrating global solidarity alongside strategic autonomy.

One of the challenges of the French presidency of the EU is thus to convince the rest of its European counterparts that the Paris demand for harmonized standards covering agricultural imports is inseparable from the flagship Green Deal of the EU as well as from the central concept. of European sovereignty.

Thanks to Europe’s collective weight in the global market and the economic importance of exports to Europe in the world, the EU has both the opportunity and the responsibility to take advantage of its position to impose its standards around the world.

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