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CEJA column, Issue 26, May 2016

In this month’s regular column from CEJA – the European Council of Young Farmers. President Alan Jagoe discusses trade agreements.

MF: What are the benefits of trade agreements?

AJ: At such a difficult time for the EU farming sector, one marred by low prices and over-supply in the markets, it is crucial to take every opportunity to increase the sale of EU agricultural products beyond the single market. EU agricultural products are some of the highest quality in the world, and certainly some of the best recognised. However, free trade always goes both ways. Thus, although all potential opportunities should be maximised, equally, it is also crucial that we protect our sensitive sectors when these could be at risk from imports with lower standards. It is therefore a delicate balance to ensure that European agriculture can benefit from these agreements as a whole, without risking the sustainability of any of our farm production sectors.

MF: What is CEJA’s standpoint?

AJ: As young farmers, CEJA is open to more trade agreements in future as well as those being negotiated today, including perhaps most importantly the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the USA, and the free trade agreement with Mercosur nations (South America). In the TTIP for example, the EU economy as a whole has much to gain from being able to sell goods and services the other side of the Atlantic. Depending on whether an agreement can be reached on our Geographical Indications (GIs) (an EU labelling system which identifies a product as originating from a specific location which gives that product a special quality or reputation or other characteristic), the demand for many European GIs may well grow substantially. This is because some products such as ‘Parma ham’ will no longer be able to be sold under those names unless they originate from Parma, Italy and abide by the indicated rules. However, although there are potential benefits on offer for European farmers – and young farmers in particular who are eager to grow, expand and increase productivity and profitability – such an agreement must also benefit farmers on the other side of the Atlantic. It should not put sensitive sectors at risk over there either. Many of the challenges faced by European young farmers in terms of gaining entry to the agricultural sector, especially barriers to access land and credit, are quite similar in the USA. CEJA therefore believes that this trade agreement – and all future trade agreements with other countries or regions – must benefit farmers on both sides of the negotiating table.

MF: In order for this to be achieved, how can sensitive sectors be shielded?

AJ: Yes, particularly sensitive sectors must be protected. As established in our position on TTIP and free trade and included in the Young Farmer Manifesto 2015, CEJA calls for safeguard clauses to be included in agreements. These clauses could include, for example, import quotas. If necessary, the potential exclusion of some sectors which are particularly threatened by competition (e.g.: beef) could be considered.

MF: Can you explain more about the beef issue?

AJ: This is highlighted in ongoing trade negotiations between the EU and Mercosur countries. European farmers are concerned by the prospect of significant quantities of cheap tariff-free beef imports from countries which may have considerably differing standards in their livestock production than us. As such, the European beef industry would not be able to compete in terms of price. In response to increasing pressure from farming organisations, European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Phil Hogan recently announced that beef would be taken ‘off the menu’ in Mercosur talks, along with ethanol for similar reasons. CEJA would like to ensure that sensitive sectors remain protected throughout the entire negotiating process, and across all trade negotiations, in TTIP as well as Mercosur and others.

MF: How can we ensure EU production standards are protected?

AJ: It is vitally important to protect our very high production standards in the EU – whether they be environmental, social or quality standards. We must ensure that none of these are diluted by lenience on the standards of products from elsewhere, but also that these are promoted to third countries as a best case scenario. This would lead a race to the top rather than to the bottom in areas such as environmental protection, climate change mitigation and animal welfare. In order to achieve this, CEJA would like to see the recognition and legal protection of geographical indications of European products and quality standards, the enforcement of clear labelling of imported products in accordance with European law and the creation of an inspection body to control the effective equivalence of products imported from the US.

MF: Why is CEJA particularly engaged with these trade talks?

AJ: Young farmers are set to potentially gain the most from the opening of new markets. However, young farmers, as some of the most fragile actors in the chain due to their lack of financial security and high investments with low and slow returns, could also be set to lose the most. CEJA therefore takes a balanced approach to the subject of free trade negotiations and keeps a close eye on developments – though this is not always easy considering the lack of transparency in such talks. CEJA calls for more transparency in negotiations and increased stakeholder involvement – albeit understanding that discretion is sometimes an indispensable tool in the bargaining process.

If you would like to get in touch with Alan Jagoe, email allusers@ceja.eu

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