EU urged to better integrate agrifood trade interests into policy

The European Liaison Committee for Agricultural and Agrifood Trade (CELCAA) has set out its vision and recommendations on how the European Union (EU) can achieve sustainable agrifood trade. 

In launching these recommendations, CELCAA urges agrifood traders and policymakers to consider these before the European elections in June 2024. Under development since December 2022, CELCAA’s position papers aim to convey the essential role agrifood trade plays in sustainable food systems and how to improve the sustainability of agrifood trade operations.

Accurate policies that reflect agrifood industry

CELCAA’s first recommendation rests on better integrating the agrifood industry’s needs into legislative decision-making. The Committee calls for more attention on including agrifood trade in regulatory discussions to ensure the policy landscape supports a sustainable transition.

In recent years, several EU legal instruments and actions have emerged that focus on environmental targets and affect how the agrifood industry operates. One example is the EU Deforestation Regulation​, enacted in June 2023. Another is the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM)​, which entered into application in its transitional phase on 1st October 2023, with its first reporting period for importers ending 31st January 2024.

Following the adoption of a proposal for The Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive​, the upcoming rules aim to ensure businesses address the detrimental impacts of their actions, both inside and outside Europe.

In its position paper, CELCAA puts forward how these current EU policies focusing on sustainability objectives through the Green Deal and farm-to-fork (F2F) strategy mainly target parts of the supply chain that focus on production or consumption elements or affect agrifood trade on a broader scope level. Therefore, as a result, fail to consider the agrifood sector’s challenges and requirements.

“With the experience of the EU Deforestation Regulation, with CBAM and with the incoming Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive, we have learned that many times, regulations have been adopted before we have even understood their impact,” Nelli Hajdu, Secretary General at CELCAA, told FoodNavigator.

Learning first-hand about what the agrifood trade requires and feeding this back into policy considerations is therefore vital within the legislative framework. The upcoming European elections provide a captive opportunity to revisit how the agrifood industry’s experience and knowledge influence EU policy. “It will be essential to better integrate interests of agrifood trade in current policy discussions,” said Hajdu.

Pre-policy planning is paramount

Flexibility and adaptability are important, but gaining a comprehensive understanding before implementing policies is crucial, too. “As yes, we can adapt, but understanding how agrifood trade is operated in the EU and outside will help to find solutions which are not only actionable but also strengthen the EU’s endeavour in leading the green transition in the multilateral environment,” Hajdu added.

Although environmental legislation impacting the agrifood sector is subject to free-trade agreements (FTAs) that differ between nations, communication, collaboration, and cross-sector support can help spur fairness and cooperation.

“We’d hope to see a new modelling of international agrifood trade in the FTAs and at the multilateral level, which acknowledges that the sustainability endeavours of our partners may not be the same but equivalent and reaching the same goal but differently,” said Hajdu.

“One which gives more attention to cooperation, tackling increasing fragmentation of sustainability requirements globally with impact for agrifood traders ability to comply with a complexity of trade rules and increasing costs,” Hajdu concluded.

Supporting an effective sustainable transition

In the recommendations, the Committee conveys the importance of better cohesion of policies affecting agrifood traders and highlighted that the European Commission’s structural organisation needs to reflect this alignment.

Producing a designated contact point can support with producing this cohesion, CELCAA relayed in its position paper. Particularly as new legal instruments like the Deforestation Regulation and Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence have moved obstacles for agrifood traders from traditional trade barriers to requirements on tracking, tracing and reporting.

Further recommendations focus on developing the broader landscape to ensure policies support the EU agrifood industry’s transition to a sustainable sector. To enable the agrifood sector to keep up with industry needs for more actions relating to trading operations, ensuring a sufficient opportunity and clear channel to communicate experiences and knowledge is vital.

Policy tools to enhance a sustainable transition that provides comprehensive, fair, and diverse market access, and strengthen circularity in agrifood and its trade are also crucial. Those that accelerate digitisation, progress climate-smart and climate-resilient infrastructure, and present new perspectives on food and nutrition security are also needed.

CELCAA also recommends the implementation of sustainable agrifood trade policies in FTAs and international trade, forecasting and anticipating food systems challenges, and respective contingency planning.

The Committee sets out the importance of stronger financial incentives, clearer key performance indicators specific to the transition, and stockholding and strategy adjustment of Green Deal objectives before the new legislative period.

Enhancing efficiency, transparency and sustainability

“After a period of focusing on policies which ‘limit’ environmentally harmful operations in the F2F strategy, we must now take an optimistic approach and look at enablers for a sustainable transition, starting with a focus on broad, fair and diverse market access as a baseline,” said Hajdu.

Looking beyond the immediate future and to agrifood industry needs that take root and grow after this year’s elections is also vital. “To bring life into concepts such as circularity in agrifood trade and to finally make use of digitalisation and big data, which have the potential to make agrifood trade more efficient, transparent and eventually sustainable,” Hajdu added.

Speaking at a CELCAA event, Michael Hager, head of cabinet of Commissioner Dombrovskis, emphasised the need to look ahead when making today’s legislative trading frameworks: “It will be important to think ahead for the next five years and to understand better our trading partners needs in the important sustainability dossiers.”

“We hope that our work will help to create a better understanding of the contribution of agrifood trade to sustainable food systems, as well as its increasing importance for food security but also in mitigating the effects of climate change,” Hajdu noted.