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The WTO allows EU to impose stricter requirements on food imports

The European Commission says that stricter environmental and climate taxes on the import of food products from non-EU countries are not in conflict with legal provisions of the World Trade Organization WTO. With this, the European Commission is sending a positive signal for the first time about the introduction of so-called “mirror clauses” in trade agreements. 

Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski proposes to the 27 LNV ministers in Luxembourg on Monday to put them to the test – 'case-by-case'. An accompanying test report from the European Commission was recently published. The European Commission will inform ministers about the stakeholder consultation held between January and March.

For a long time, farmers and livestock farmers have asked for equal production criteria or extra levies on 'cheap' food from non-EU countries, especially to protect their own European market. But the introduction of such 'import fines' is not allowed by the WTO, because it 'distorts competition' and 'favours one's own companies'.

But now that the European Union is introducing new standards for animal welfare, biodiversity and health with Green Deal and Farm-to-Fork, the EU plans to require such new Climate Criteria for imported food as well. And if countries are unable or unwilling to comply with this, the EU may impose additional levies in order to restore a 'level playing field'.

Austrian MEP Simone Schmiedtbauer (ÖVP/EPP) speaks of a “stage victory”. For the first time, there is now a positive signal from the European Commission for 'mirror clauses' in trade agreements. France in particular has made a strong case for this in the past six months. 

“The European Commission is no longer opposed to the project. This is a stage win on which we will build our further efforts," said the MEP. “It is high time the European Commission understood the farmers' unions' requirement that production standards for European farmers should also apply to imported agricultural products and foodstuffs,” explains Schmiedtbauer in an article on the site of the Austrian farmers' union STBB.

In order to test legal sustainability in practice, there should be a case-by-case evaluation. Dutch agriculture minister Henk Staghouwer announced in a letter to parliament last week that he also supports the experimental 'case-by-case' approach. 

He does point out that it is not only the quality that determines the price, but that there are also different circumstances per country. “At the same time, other factors, including infrastructure, knowledge and labor costs, also influence the ultimate competitive position of companies. In this regard, consideration should be given to what is possible under the multilateral framework of the WTO, and what measures are desirable, according to Staghouwer in his letter to parliament.

“Same production standards for imported products – that's what local farmers demand, and they deserve it. This strengthens the competitiveness of European farmers and helps a regional approach to agriculture to achieve a breakthrough. Consumers, animals, the environment and climate benefit from this, and last but not least, we farmers,” says Schmiedtbauer.


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