Remarks by Commissioner Kyriakides during the AGRIFISH Council – Report on the Application of Health and Environmental Standards to imported Agri-Food Products.

(Source: European Commission)

“Check against delivery”

There’s never been a more pressing need for more resilient and sustainable food systems for our long-term food security.

As the world’s third-largest importer of agri-food products, the EU can help boost sustainability in non-EU countries.

Commissioner Wojciechowski and I are pleased to present you the report assessing the rationale and legal feasibility of applying EU health and environmental standards to imported agri-food products, published on 3 June.

Already, all food products put on the EU market must comply with some of the world’s highest safety standards. Now we’ve set our sights on making our food system a global standard-bearer for sustainability as well.

The report identifies three areas of action to achieve this goal.

Firstly, multilateral fora. The sustainability of food systems is a cross-cutting issue tying most current climate and environmental challenges together. However, unlike areas such as biodiversity or climate change, there is no international framework convention or agreement on sustainable food systems with an independent scientific body informing policymaking.

In this context, the 2021 UN Food Systems Summit played an important role in consolidating action and bringing together various multilateral discussions about food. We will continue engaging in the follow-up to the Summit in many ways – one way being to encourage integrated policy development.

We will also continue advocating a more sustainable trading system at the World Trade Organization and the inclusion of sustainability considerations in international standard-setting bodies, including the Codex Alimentarius Commission.

Secondly, we come to bilateral cooperation and trade agreements. We pursue targeted cooperation with partners willing to make their local production more sustainable. We’ve started using trade agreements to encourage partners to move towards sustainable food systems. The Generalised Scheme of Preferences for low- and lower-middle- income countries, and the newer trade agreements, contain binding commitments to respect multilateral environmental agreements.

In addition, we’re including a new chapter on sustainable food systems in the trade agreements under negotiation now, and will propose it in future agreements too. The chapter focuses on cooperation at every stage, from production to consumption.

Our trade agreements further enable us, with the partner’s consent, to make tariff preferences conditional on meeting certain standards.

Thirdly, we have autonomous EU measures, already applied to a limited extent in animal welfare. We recently put forward ambitious proposals in areas like deforestation or corporate sustainability due diligence.

The report confirms that health and environmental standards, including animal welfare standards, relating to process and production methods can be applied to imported products in compliance with WTO rules, but under certain conditions.

Ministers,

These three areas of action are complementary and have different dynamics. Progress at the multilateral level usually takes more time; but the great advantage is that, once agreed, rules are applicable globally.

Bilateral actions are mutually agreed, so not controversial, and can be quite efficient on substance.

Lastly, there is indeed scope for autonomous measures, but they require careful handling.

To conclude, let me stress our commitment to promoting sustainability objectives in multilateral and bilateral fora.

Besides this, we do not shy away from considering autonomous measures in line with the Farm to Fork Strategy and other policy initiatives.

Political courage and a strong unity of purpose among us will ensure global sustainability.

On that note, I will pass the floor to Janusz and look forward to our discussion.

Thank you.

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