Macron’s recipe for fair food – POLITICO
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France is preparing plans to restrict food imports to Europe if it comes from countries with more lax rules than the EU in areas such as child labor, deforestation and chemicals.
Always at the forefront of Europe’s battle to preserve its gastronomic heritage, French President Emmanuel Macron is leading this culinary crusade before Paris takes over the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU next year. As Europe aims for a green transition and France faces a critical election in April 2022, Macron argues that creating a level playing field on trade is essential to ensure that EU food not be compromised by competing, inexpensive imports produced with lower standards.
But this surge could bring Europeans to a showdown at the World Trade Organization (WTO), where the major agro-exporting countries are likely to challenge the legality of the French regime.
“We cannot ask our farmers to redouble their efforts and, the next day, to import products from regions which” do not respect the same rules, “Macron said last week during the” Grand Rendez-vous ” Food Sovereignty “, a major event marking the launch of a freshly prepared strategy for food sovereignty, which has been elevated to the top of the political agenda.
EU From farm to fork and Green accord Strategies for greener food systems mean that farmers on the continent face a 50% reduction in the risk and use of pesticides, while other initiatives also mean that they will be under great pressure on the market. animal welfare or environmental protection.
France’s grand ambitions for food sovereignty come as the European Parliament is locked in tense negotiations to ensure that reform of the Common Agricultural Policy – the European agricultural subsidy scheme of 270 billion euros – can bring the EU closer to this objective of fair trade. Parliament shares Macron’s priorities, but the EU Council is fighting anything concrete in the current CAP negotiations, which means all eyes are on a big push from Paris during the French presidency early next year.
“The Parliament has been very ambitious in demanding that all products entering the EU meet our standards, and in particular our environmental standards,” said Anne Sander, a French MEP with the European People’s Party (EPP) of the right involved. in the CAP negotiations.
In commercial terms, however, it is difficult to target production techniques rather than the quality of the final product. Sam Lowe, a business expert at the Center for European Reform, said that while the rules for an end product’s standards – for example, on food safety – were “well enough understood, the trickier question is about the rules. relating to processing and production methods. “
He said that while EU leaders might have some leeway, these types of restrictions are “much more difficult to justify in a WTO-consistent way” and largely depend on how the EU plays his trade cards.
“In the context of free trade agreements, the EU can of course place conditions of preferential access to its market, and these conditions can extend to production methods,” Lowe said, citing the case of the Kingdom. -Uni post-Brexit, which was able to retain its trade advantages on condition of “staying in phase” with EU rules on subsidies, labor and environmental rules.
Macron has teamed up with reformist MEPs on the matter, as he seeks to please his country’s powerful but increasingly battered agricultural sector ahead of his candidacy for re-election next year. His plan focuses on what he calls “mirror clauses”. If Europe meets certain standards, these should be reflected in trading partners.
“Above all, we are defending mirror clauses, which will allow us to see our own constraints reflected to us by the people we are negotiating with,” Macron said at the event last week. “This is common sense.
“We have, in South America, countries which deforest, which do not have the same limitations as us on phytosanitary products, which do not have the same labor requirements as us,” he said. he said about the EU-Mercosur deal, which remains in limbo after giving in to pressure from the agricultural lobby and blocking the ratification process despite complaints from other capitals.
To strengthen the support of farmers, Macron and his allies made the fight against unbalanced agri-food trade a matter of national security and identity and stressed that France was ready to fight against this “environmental and social dumping” directly outside from Brussels.
“We have to go much further today. The French presidency of the EU must proudly raise the issue of mirror clauses, which is for me a way out of this dependence on production systems that do not meet our standards ”, declared the French minister. of Agriculture Julien Denormandie at the same event that Macron attended last week.
The Council, which negotiated CAP reform on behalf of EU countries, succeeded in curbing Parliament’s trade reform by wooing MEPs with a non-binding political declaration, the content of which remains a major sticking point talks, and which Sander hailed as a paradigm shift in Brussels and a “first step”.
“The three institutions agree today that products entering the EU must meet our standards – this is already a huge step forward,” she said.
But a parliamentary official close to the talks said the CAP was the crucial ticket to act on this point and that, once completed, it was unclear what legal case would be suitable for this kind of policy change.
“The [Council] the presidency can do a lot of things – but they cannot propose a regulation, ”they said. “Anything we can already get now is always better than what we could get in the future.”
During the CAP talks this week, French Denormandie doubled down on the need for the EU to “export its standards and stop imposing foreign standards on its own common market”, but the governments of the EU remain miles apart on the issue and several details may still be found when its Council Presidency comes to fruition.
According to Lowe, “it’s possible for the EU to put a lot of conditionality into its trade agreements” and get it accepted by its trading partners, but that will largely depend on what Brussels is ready to offer – and to give.
“Other countries might be ready to agree to strict conditionality on a level playing field if the EU then allowed them to sell tons of product duty-free in the EU – but not if they can only sell small amounts, ”he said.
Eddy Wax contributed reporting.
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