German Agriculture Minister Julia Klöckner urged the European Commission to insist on more consistent sustainability standards when negotiating future free trade agreements with third countries.
“You cannot call for a Green Deal for European agriculture on the one hand, but then not address this sustainably in free trade agreements with third countries,” Klöckner said afterwards. ” a meeting with regional agriculture ministers on 1 October, making reference to the EU’s flagship climate and environmental policy.
Raising standards nationally without maintaining the same ambition for imports would endanger the competitiveness of domestic farmers, according to Klöckner.
“Therefore, my personal request is very clear: that whenever we conclude trade agreements with third countries, (…) the issue of sustainability must always play a role for the Commission”, she added.
During the three-day conference between Klöckner and ministers of state, the question of how to make the EU-Mercosur free trade agreement more environmentally, climate and animal friendly had been one topics on the agenda.
The planned agreement between the EU27 and the Mercosur countries, Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, has come up several times under fire from agrifood players and Member States.
The German Farmers’ Association (DBV) also called for “fundamental adjustments to EU trade policy” ahead of the meeting.
“Agricultural imports from third countries cannot undermine high and expensive European standards for consumer, environmental, climate and animal protection,” the organization said in a position paper, adding that the EU-Mercosur agreement was “an example of a flawed trade policy”. ”.
The DBV called for the agreement to be reassessed in the light of its environmental and climate impact and aligned with the European Green Deal.
Restructuring of livestock
During their meeting, the federal and state ministers also discussed the restructuring of the livestock sector, with a view to making it more animal-friendly and sustainable.
“No one disputes the need for restructuring any longer, it is now a question of the concrete way of achieving it”, said conference chairman Wolfram Günther.
According to Günther, regional ministers were “in full agreement” that the herd should stop growing and that the transition to more animal-friendly breeding should instead be encouraged more strongly.
Klöckner said she had “sympathy for an animal welfare tax” on animal products to financially assist farmers in their transition to better animal husbandry standards.
In addition to this, the ministers also agreed to work on the introduction of a national animal welfare label, announced Till Backhaus, Minister of Agriculture of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.
Klöckner, however, later clarified that this was not a binding decision but simply a declaration of political intent.
Klöckner, who has been acting minister since the federal election on September 26, had failed during his tenure to introduce a voluntary national animal welfare label. His coalition partner, the Social Democrats (SPD), had blocked his advances and demanded mandatory labeling instead.
Tight timetable for the CAP strategic plan
Klöckner also announced his intention to present the implementing regulations for the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) by mid-October. Since formal legal acts on CAP reform are still pending at EU level, the ministry is “ahead of the curve,” Klöckner said.
State ministers have already urged Klöckner to speed up the process, stressing the time needed to coordinate their regional plans with that of the federal government before Germany submits its national strategic plan to the Commission by the end of December.
Industry associations also joined the call.
“We are planning the culture and we basically need to know in the summer of 2022 what the planning for 2023 looks like,” said DBV general secretary Bernhard Krüsken.
The organization also called for improving the catalog of so-called eco-programs, used to reward farmers for their environmentally and climate-friendly practices.
The DBV urged ministers to set attractive premium levels for eco-programs and to introduce additional measures to promote grassland and fodder production.
“We will submit the project to the associations by October 15 and then see what comes out of it,” Klöckner said in response to a question from EURACTIV, adding that for meadows you also have to keep in mind ” what has a chance in Brussels and what is not ”.
But associations remained concerned about the tight schedule.
Johann Rathke of the environmental organization WWF told EURACTIV Germany that overtime pressure could result in association contributions being sidelined.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]