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French livestock farmers not pleased with EU-Chile deal

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Euractiv | 19 December 2022

French livestock farmers not pleased with EU-Chile deal

By Hugo Struna

French livestock farmers have criticised the recently agreed EU-Chile trade agreement, which slashes most tariffs between both trading blocs, as it allows Chile to trade without having to respect the same standards that bind EU member states.

The EU and Chile agreed to a new ‘Advanced Framework Agreement’ on 9 December, twenty years after the first agreement was signed in 2002. While the agreement mainly covers raw material imports, it also covers meat.

“As always, agriculture and its most sensitive sectors have been the currency of the latest negotiations. The concessions are piling up agreement after agreement,” France’s main farmer’s union, the FNSEA, said in a press release.

In terms of volume, Chilean exports to France could reach 9,000 tonnes per year for pork, 4,000 tonnes for sheep meat, and 2,000 tonnes for beef.

Poultry would increase from 18,000 tonnes to nearly 40,000 per year, ensuring France – which produces 800 million of its own and currently imports one million – gets an extra 45 million chicken.

But according to Yann Nédéléc, the director of ANVOL, the French poultry industry’s interprofessional body, “it is the accumulation and coherence of European decisions” that pose a problem.

“On the one hand, we are going to impose regulations, increase production constraints to strengthen animal welfare in particular, and on the other hand Europe signs agreements that bring in products that do not respect the same rules as ours,” the farmer told EURACTIV France.

Mirror clauses

Livestock farmers’ unions and interprofessional groups are particularly miffed about the so-called “mirror clauses” according to which EU standards are also to be applied to foreign imports to make trade fairer.

But poultry producers are warning about the health issue in particular. As ANVOL recalls, the European Commission suspended Chilean imports in 2020 because health tests had revealed “deficiencies” among meat producers.

“Farmers also use certain antibiotics and growth promoters that are prohibited here,” said Nédéléc, adding that it is “unfair competition”.

Social aspects mainly explain the competitive gap, given that “labour costs are much lower in Chile,” he added.

The same is true of sheep and cattle farmers. For the National Bovine Federation (FNB), Chilean farms “will not necessarily respect European rules on traceability, animal feed, use of veterinary medicines, use of phytosanitary products and animal welfare”.

Criticism of a ‘historic’ agreement

The European executive, however, is pleased to have reached a “historic” agreement which contains a “chapter on Sustainable Food Systems, with the objective of making food supply chains more sustainable and resilient.”

According to the Commission, there will be “cooperation at all levels of the food supply chain”, in particular on “animal welfare standards, pesticides and fertilisers”.

Brussels’ commitment to “phasing out growth-promoting antibiotics”, which are banned in the EU, does not please the FNB, which believes that “a binding European reciprocity measure should already have been adopted”.

Nédélec also bemoaned the lack of progress and the small chance of future progress on animal welfare, which he noted is “not covered by WTO rules at the moment”.

For FNSEA, these non-binding commitments remain “empty shells”, “will-o’-the-wisp initiatives that are always unattainable […] displaying only ambitions, without action”.

Harsh criticism

But these criticisms from the sector are a little too harsh, MEP and member of the International Trade Committee (INTA) Marie-Pierre Vedrenne told EURACTIV France.

“There are no finished products that, in the entire production chain, do not comply with European standards,” she said.

“We cannot take agriculture out of the trade agreements, we are in a global market. There are issues of compatibility with WTO rules,” she added while acknowledging the distress of farmers.

Vedrenne is indeed counting on the new, more environmentally ambitious “sustainable development” chapters, which include penalties for non-compliance. These chapters should first concern the agreement with New Zealand before becoming a common standard for all trade agreements, including the EU-Chile agreement.

Ratification method

Another gripe relates to the ratification of the EU-Chile agreement bypassing national parliaments.

Indeed, the decoupling of the economic and ecological components from the rest of the agreement allows it to be ratified at the EU level only.

The FNSEA sees this as “a denial of democracy” aimed at masking the “deleterious effects on agriculture and rural areas”.

“The Commission has gone back on the commitment it had made on this subject before the Council,” the FNB added.

This means the agreement only needs approval from the European Parliament and the Council, as well as the Chilean Congress and Senate.

 source: Euractiv