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The European Union is the global leader in exports pf agricultural produce and food.
According to the latest annual report on the EU’s agri-food trade, over the last year these exports have been boosted by an increase in trade to China.
Currently, the top five destinations for EU28 agri-food exports are the US, China, Switzerland, Russia and Japan.
The report says that export continues to be one of the key drivers of growth and jobs in European agriculture and food industry.
Over the last 10 years, the reforms of the Common Agricultural Policy have helped the EU agri-food sector to improve its ability to trade and have made it more competitive, the report says.
“During this period, the EU agri-food sector has also benefitted from the expansion of global value chains,” the report says.
“As a result, agri-food export values have doubled and the EU has secured the position of a competitive supplier at all levels of the agricultural value chain.”
Among the agricultural feed and food products, the EU exports feature in particular wines, cereals, meat, olive oil and dairy products, and one third of the export value is generated by drinks and products such as pasta, infant food and other processed products.
Agri-food represents more than seven per cent of all goods exported from the EU.
However, the report shows that some countries in the EU have suffered and are still suffering from the import restrictions imposed by the Russia and from low world market prices.
Despite these obstacles the report shows that the overall EU agricultural trade performance was positive in 2015, with the value of agri-food exports increasing to €129 billion and a net trade surplus of €16 billion.
The report shows that diversification of exports has been the key word of EU agri-food trade policy in the aftermath of the Russian embargo, enabling the EU to maintain the high level of exports and consequently its position as the world’s premier exporter.
Besides finding new markets, ties with existing partners have been strengthened, as around half of the total gain in EU agri-food exports in 2015 came from increased trade with China.
Several sanitary and phyto-sanitary barriers have been lifted over the last year and GI agreements concluded for EU quality products (e.g. Morocco) have also increased export opportunities.
Advances in free trade negotiations and a deal concluded with Viet Nam and the WTO Nairobi Agreement are paving the way for a less distorted trade environment and could enhance further growth.
The report, however, was drawn up before the result of the UK’s vote to leave the EU and the repercussions of the Brexit have yet to be factored into the future export scene in the EU.
Phil Hogan, EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development commented on the report: “Our trade performance continues to be a real good news story for the EU agri-food sector. Our high production standards and commitment to quality food and drink products ensure continuing global demand.
“We have directed significant resources towards making the most of these opportunities, including an increased global promotion budget, and a number of new and exciting trade opportunities. In the coming months, I hope to see further export growth for Europe’s farmers and agri-food businesses, and the Commission will support them every step of the way.
“Every €100,000 of exports supports one rural job on average so the EU’s good agri-food export performance is good for jobs and growth in rural areas.”
EU agriculture organisation Copa & Cogeca’s Secretary-General Pekka Pesonen warned that farmers are still not reaping the benefits of the rise in exports.
“Farmers’ incomes are only on average half the level of average earnings in the EU and they fell again last year, being hit by low prices and high input costs,” he said
“Their incomes are constantly being squeezed by processors and retailers. This has to stop. We need a fair, transparent and functioning food supply chain. Farmers must get a better share of the consumer euro. The price the consumer pays is sufficient to ensure that a fair margin goes back to the farmer.”
Mr Pesonen added: “To improve their positioning in the food chain we also need written contracts between producers, processors and retailers that are enforced to ensure farmers are given a fair price for their produce and are paid on time.
“We need statutory legislation at EU level so that operators are fined when they break the law. We also need to encourage producers to join forces in agri-cooperatives to enable them to better market their produce.”