The latest monthly agri-food trade report shows that between January and May 2020, the total value of EU-27 agri-food exports rose by 2% compared to the same period in 2019, reaching €75.8 billion, while the value of imports increased to €52.7bn (a rise of nearly 1%).
However the monthly values of EU-27 exports and imports in May 2020 decreased by 7.5% and 4.5% respectively below the level of the previous month. The EU enjoyed an agri-food trade surplus of €23.1 billion during this period, an increase of 5% compared to the corresponding months of 2019. The growth of EU exports was driven by exceptionally high sales of pig meat to China and of cereals to the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.
The value of EU exports to China rose by €1.93 billion during this period. In addition to pig meat, the other EU agri-food products in high demand from China were wheat, offal meat, and infant food. Strong demand for EU barley and wheat led to increases in exports to the MENA region. The total value of EU agri-food exports to the UK fell by €899 million, while, imports from the UK dropped by €807m. Declines were also noted in the value of the EU's imports from the USA as well as EU export values to the USA.
Agriculture: Short-term outlook report favourable for EU agricultural sectors
The Commission has published the latest short-term outlook report for EU agricultural markets. This regular publication presents a general and sector-by-sector overview of the latest tendencies and further prospects for agri-food markets. The first 2021 edition concludes that the EU agricultural sector has shown resilience throughout the COVID-19 crisis. The sector performed relatively well thanks to increased retail sales and home consumption.
In addition, prospects are favourable with a dynamic global demand and the reopening of food services (restaurants, bars, cafés) expected once the vaccination campaign is sufficiently advanced. Recent trade developments will reduce uncertainties around the EU's trade relations, benefitting agricultural sectors. Among those developments, the US and the EU have agreed to temporarily suspend tariffs related to the civil aircraft disputes early March 2021. In addition, the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement was concluded late 2020. Still, both sides will need time to adapt and provide necessary conditions for optimal trade exchanges. For full details concerning specific markets, see the news item and the report available online.
European Green Deal: Commission presents actions to boost organic production
The Commission has presented an Action Plan for the development of organic production. Its overall aim is to boost the production and consumption of organic products, to reach 25% of agricultural land under organic farming by 2030, as well as to increase organic aquaculture significantly.
Organic production comes with a number of important benefits: organic fields have around 30% more biodiversity, organically farmed animals enjoy a higher degree of animal welfare and take less antibiotics, organic farmers have higher incomes and are more resilient, and consumers know exactly what they are getting thanks to the EU organic logo. The Action Plan is in line with the European Green Deal and the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity Strategies.
The Action Plan is designed to provide the already fast growing organic sector the right tools to achieve the 25% target. It puts forward 23 actions structured around three axes – boosting consumption, increasing production, and further improving the sustainability of the sector – to ensure a balanced growth of the sector.
The Commission encourages member states to develop national organic action plans to increase their national share of organic farming. There are significant differences between member states regarding the share of agricultural land currently under organic farming, ranging from 0.5% to over 25%. The national organic action plans will complement the national CAP strategic plans, by setting out measures that go beyond agriculture and what is offered under the CAP.
Growing consumption of organic products will be crucial to encourage farmers to convert to organic farming and thus increase their profitability and resilience. To this end, the Action Plan puts forward several concrete actions aimed at boosting demand, maintaining consumer trust and bringing organic food closer to citizens. This includes: informing and communicating about organic production, promoting the consumption of organic products, stimulating a greater use of organics in public canteens through public procurement and increasing the distribution of organic products under the EU school scheme. Actions also aim, for example, at preventing fraud, increasing consumers' trust and improving traceability of organic products. The private sector can also play a significant role by, for example, rewarding employees with ‘bio-cheques' they can use to purchase organic food.
Presently, about 8.5% of EU's agricultural area is farmed organically, and the trends show that with the present growth rate, the EU will reach 15-18% by 2030. This Action Plan provides the toolkit to make an extra push and reach 25%. While the Action Plan largely focuses on the “pull effect” of the demand side, the Common Agricultural Policy will remain a key tool for supporting the conversion. Currently, around 1.8% (€7.5 billion) of CAP is used to support organic farming. The future CAP will include eco-schemes which will be backed by a budget of €38-58bn, for the period 2023 – 2027, depending on the outcome of the CAP negotiations. The eco-schemes can be deployed to boost organic farming.
Beyond the CAP, key tools include organisation of information events and networking for sharing best practices, certification for groups of farmers rather than for individuals, research and innovation, use of blockchain and other technologies to improve traceability increasing market transparency, reinforcing local and small-scale processing, supporting the organisation of the food chain and improving animal nutrition.
To raise awareness on organic production, the Commission will organise an annual EU ‘Organic day' as well as awards in the organic food chain, to recognise excellence at all steps of the organic food chain. The Commission will also encourage the development of organic tourism networks through ‘biodistricts'. 'Biodistricts' are areas where farmers, citizens, tourist operators, associations and public authorities work together towards the sustainable management of local resources, based on organic principles and practices.
The Action Plan also notes that organic aquaculture production remains a relatively new sector but has a significant potential for growth. The upcoming new EU guidelines on the sustainable development of EU aquaculture, will encourage member states and stakeholders to support the increase in organic production in this sector.
Finally, it also aims to further improve organic farming's performance in terms of sustainability. To achieve this, actions will focus on improving animal welfare, ensuring the availability of organic seeds, reducing the sector's carbon footprint, and minimizing the use of plastics, water and energy.
The Commission also intends to increase the share of research and innovation (R&I) and dedicate at least 30% of the budget for research and innovation actions in the field of agriculture, forestry and rural areas to topics specific to or relevant for the organic sector.
The Commission will closely monitor progress through a yearly follow-up with representatives of the European Parliament, member states and stakeholders, through bi-annual progress reports and a mid-term review.
European Green Deal Executive Vice President Frans Timmermans said: “Agriculture is one of the main drivers of biodiversity loss, and biodiversity loss is a major threat to agriculture. We urgently need to restore balance in our relationship with nature. This is not something farmers face alone, it involves the whole food chain. With this Action Plan, we aim to boost demand for organic farming, help consumers make informed choices, and support European farmers in their transition. The more land we dedicate to organic farming, the better the protection of biodiversity in that land and in surrounding areas.”
Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski said: “The organic sector is recognised for its sustainable practices and use of resources, giving its central role in achieving the Green Deal objectives. To achieve the 25% of organic farming target, we need to ensure that demand drives the growth of the sector while taking into account the significant differences between each Member State's organic sectors. The organic Action Plan provides tools and ideas to accompany a balanced growth of the sector. The development will be supported by the Common Agricultural Policy, research and innovation as well as close cooperation with key actors at EU, national and local level.”
Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius said: “Organic farming provides many benefits to the environment, contributing to healthy soils, reducing pollution of air and water, and improving biodiversity. At the same time, with demand growing faster than production over the last decade, the organic sector brings economic benefits to its players. The new Organic farming Action Plan will be a crucial instrument to set the path to achieve the targets of 25% of agricultural area under organic farming and of significant increase of organic aquaculture enshrined in the Biodiversity and the Farm to Fork Strategies. In addition to that, the new Strategic Guidelines for the sustainable development of EU aquaculture to be adopted by the Commission soon, will promote organic aquaculture further.”
The Action Plan takes into account the results of the public consultation held between September and November 2020, which attracted a total of 840 replies from stakeholders and citizens.
It is an initiative announced in the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies, published in May 2020. These two strategies were presented in the context of the European Green Deal to enable the transition to sustainable food systems and to tackle the key drivers of biodiversity loss.
In the recommendations to member states on their CAP strategic plans published in December 2020, the Commission included the target of a 25% organic area in the EU by 2030. member states are invited to set national values for this target in their CAP plans. Based on their local conditions and needs, member states will then explain how they plan to achieve this target using CAP instruments.
The Commission presented its proposals for the CAP reform in 2018, introducing a more flexible, performance and results-based approach that takes into account local conditions and needs, while increasing EU level ambitions in terms of sustainability. The new CAP is built around nine objectives, which is also the basis upon which EU countries design their CAP strategic plans.
CAP: New report on fraud, corruption and misuse of EU agricultural funds must be wake up call
MEPs working on protection of the EU's budget from the Greens/EFA group have just released a new report: "Where does the EU money go?", which looks at the misuse of European agricultural funds in Central and Eastern Europe. The report looks at systemic weakness in EU agricultural funds and maps out in clear terms, how EU funds contribute to fraud and corruption and undermining the rule of law in five EU countries: Bulgaria, Czechia, Hungary, Slovakia and Romania.
The report outlines up to date cases, including: Fraudulent claims and payments of EU agricultural subsidies Slovakia; the conflicts of interest around Czech Prime Minister's Agrofert company in Czechia; and state interference by the Fidesz government in Hungary. This report comes out as the EU institutions are in the process of negotiating the Common Agricultural Policy for the years 2021-27.
Viola von Cramon MEP, Greens/EFA member of the Budgetary Control Committee, comments: "The evidence shows that EU agricultural funds are fuelling fraud, corruption and the rise of rich businessmen. Despite numerous investigations, scandals and protests, the Commission seems to be turning a blind eye to the rampant abuse of taxpayer's money and member states are doing little to address systematic issues. The Common Agricultural Policy simply isn't working. It provides the wrong incentives for how land is used, which damages the environment and harms local communities. The massive accumulation of land at the expense of the common good is not a sustainable model and it certainly shouldn't be financed from the EU's budget.
"We cannot continue to allow a situation where EU funds are causing such harm in so many countries. The Commission needs to act, it cannot bury its head in the sand. We need transparency on how and where EU money ends up, the disclosure of the ultimate owners of large agricultural companies and an end to conflicts of interest. The CAP must be reformed just so it works for people and the planet and is ultimately accountable to EU citizens. In the negotiations around the new CAP, the Parliament team must stand firm behind mandatory capping and transparency."
Mikuláš Peksa, Pirate Party MEP and Greens/EFA Member of the Budgetary Control Committee said: “We have seen in my own country how EU agricultural funds are enriching an entire class of people all the way up to the Prime Minister. There is a systemic lack of transparency in the CAP, both during and after the distribution process. National paying agencies in CEE fail to use clear and objective criteria when selecting beneficiaries and are not publishing all the relevant information on where the money goes. When some data is disclosed, it is often deleted after the mandatory period of two years, making it almost impossible to control.
“Transparency, accountability and proper scrutiny are essential to building an agricultural system that works for all, instead of enriching a select few. Unfortunately, data on subsidy recipients are scattered over hundreds of registers, which are mostly not interoperable with the Commission’s fraud detection tools. Not only is it almost impossible for the Commission to identify corruption cases, but it is often unaware of who the final beneficiaries are and how much money they receive. In the ongoing negotiations for the new CAP period, we cannot allow the Member States to continue operating with this lack of transparency and EU oversight."
The report is available online here.
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