Sacar Newsletter - JANUARY - FEBRUARY 2023
Here is our digest of some issues which could be of interest to you, be they trade or food safety or sustainability. We are privileged to travel and go to factory or field visits, an opportunity we always look for. Sometimes we get a question – do you often speak to the Commission? Well, the question is funny for those of us in Brussels, but we are also in a unique position to be a channel between the farming and industry communities in various countries which supply the EU market, the EU officials and our partners in other food associations and the diplomates. A critical role, since last time we checked, food was not grown rue de la Loi. The same buzz words resonate: the Commission and the Parliament will soon become lame ducks, and where does this leave the Green Deal and the Farm to Fork? Important as these matters may be, many critical decisions for our members’ businesses are stemming from old technical norms. Helicopter view with attention to detail sums this up nicely. Enjoy reading!
In this issue :
- Contaminants: draft nickel levels for treenuts and oilseeds
- SACAR confirmed as member of the EU consultative bodies on agricultural markets, agritrade and organics
- Increasing stakes for dried fruits and shrimps on the EU market as SO2 levels may be reduced
- EU FTA negotiations: the political cycle, as ever, has a way of focusing busy minds
- Ukraine’s exports to benefit from another year of full market access to the EU
- Save the date: 3 May – next FRUCOM meeting on nutrition and communication
Contaminants: draft nickel levels for treenuts and oilseeds
The Commission is planning to amend the EU legislation on contaminants, setting maximum levels of nickel in certain foodstuffs.
Draft Maximum levels (mg/kg, on edible parts only):
Tree nuts: 3.5
Chestnuts, walnuts, Brazil nuts and cashew nuts 10.0
Sunflower seeds 9.0
Transition period should be foreseen for foodstuffs already placed on the market.
SACAR CONFIRMED AS MEMBER OF THE EU CONSULTATIVE BODIES ON AGRICULTURAL MARKETS, AGRITRADE AND ORGANICS
The EU Directorate General for Agriculture consults stakeholders in what is called in the EU speak the CDGs, or the civil dialogue groups. Those underwent a profound reform in 2022. We are happy to announce that SACAR got its membership confirmed in all the groups we applied for: agricultural markets, international aspects of agriculture and organics. This means we will continue doing our best representing the interests of our various members.
INCREASING STAKES FOR DRIED FRUITS AND SHRIMPS ON THE EU MARKET, AS SO2 LEVELS MAY BE REDUCED
FRUCOM discussed with the Commission the current situation and prospects of Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) additive. The Member States had initial meetings at the end of January, and they are currently performing their own assessments. This discussion will resume on 25th of April.
FRUCOM hosted an info session for its members in January and we are reaching out to other interested organisations. EFSA has expressed concern about the current levels. As a result, allowed levels may be lowered in dried fruits, shrimp and other products. This is a huge challenge for harvest, processing and storage. This would at the very least require educating consumers as, for example, dried apricots would change colour, from yellow to brown. We might as well mention our team prefers the brown apricots! The meeting emphasized that, if levels are to be lowered, an appropriate time to change manufacturing process is to be set, whilst ensuring products with long shelf life can be sold.
EU FTA NEGOTIATIONS: THE POLITICAL CYCLE, AS EVER, HAS A WAY OF FOCUSING BUSY MINDS
With the next EU elections scheduled for 2024, coinciding also with the end of term for the current Commission, the EU is pressing hard with advancing its legislative and policy agenda lest important issues are kicked to the long grass as the electioneering begins.
Nowhere is this more evident than with the pace at which the Commission is ratcheting up trade negotiations, taking full advantage of the end of covid restrictions to schedule negotiation rounds with Australia, India, Indonesia, and discussions with Thailand to possibly relaunch talks – frozen in 2014 following the military coup in 2013. A major achievement, should the stars align, would of course be the signature and ratification of the FTA with the Mercosur block.
EU and Australia enjoying good progress in negotiations
Australia and the Commission most recently concluded the 14th round of negotiations for a trade agreement in Canberra between 6 and 10 February 2023 with the 15th round of negotiations already planned for April 2023 in Brussels. Progress has been positive on numerous chapters, for example on Trade and Sustainable Development, where there has been greater convergence in views between the EU and the Albanese administration in Australia. However, some sticking points remain in terms of agricultural products. First, in relation to market access, where Australia is keen to replicate its success with the UK FTA, which the EU has no intention to entertain, and second, in relation to geographical indications, where Australia’s significant European diaspora has resulted in many Australian products bearing names of products protected by EU GI’s. Notwithstanding some points of friction, both the EU and Australia appear keen to conclude talks by the summer of 2023.
India keeps the EU guessing, Indonesia back on track, and Thailand looks set to resume
The next, and fourth round of the EU and India FTA negotiations will take place in Brussels from 13 to
17 March 2023. The Commission has made no secret of the fact that challenges exist in the approach of negotiations with India, being a more complex political entity given its intricate state and federal responsibilities. Nonetheless, the European Commission remains positive and committed to advancing the FTA discussions.
For Indonesia, the FTA negotiations lost momentum at the end of 2021, but the two parties pulled off a welcome 13th round of negotiations on an EU-Indonesia Free Trade Agreement from 6 to 11 February 2023 in Bali. These were the first in-person round since December 2019, with a substantive range of issues discussed via the 14 working groups which met during the week. The next round is scheduled to take place in the week of 8 May 2023 in Brussels.
Although little in official terms has been announced by the Commission, there have been positive noises in the press around the resumption of the EU-Thailand FTA negotiations, which have been on hold since 2015. Thai Commerce Minister Jurin Laksanawisit met with EU Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis in Brussels on the 25th of January 2023, with the potential resumption of the FTA among the topics under discussions, and more recent reports from Thailand on 20 February is that Thai government has officially endorsed the effort to establish a free trade agreement between Thailand and the European Union. The ball is now squarely in the EU’s court, to pass a mandate for the resumption of the negotiations.
UKRAINE’S EXPORTS TO BENEFIT FROM ANOTHER YEAR OF FULL MARKET ACCESS TO THE EU
Following much speculation and bated breath, the European Commission finally proposed on 23 February to renew the suspension of import duties, quotas and trade defence measures on Ukrainian exports to the European Union – known as the Autonomous Trade Measures (ATMs) – for another year.
Existing ATM have been in force since 4 June 2022, and would have expired on 4 June 2023, and Ukrainian exports have boomed in this period. Whereas solidarity has been the name of the game, displaced European producers and some Member States have raised concerns about the impact on their agricultural sector of the full unfettered access from a major neighbouring exporter.
The Commission’s proposal will now be considered by the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union with a view to ensuring seamless transition from the current regime of ATMs to the new one.
Whilst DG TRADE and the powers that be will be working overtime to ensure this proposal sails through the legislative process, DG AGRI will be equally busy assuring Member States and EU producers that the Commission is listening to their concerns and ready to respond – the question being, with what, by when, for whom, and how long for?
Access the proposal: https://ec.europa.eu/transparency/documents-register/detail?ref=COM(2023)106&lang=en
SAVE THE DATE: 3 MAY – NEXT FRUCOM MEETING ON NUTRITION AND COMMUNICATION
The next online meeting of the Nutrition and Communication Working Group will take place on Wednesday 3 May 2023.
The main topic of the meeting will be the current situation of the front-of-pack nutrition labelling, with a focus on Nutri-score.