In an exclusive interview held as the EU body launched its #livestockcounts #enjoyagrifood campaign, promoting quality European meat consumption, Pesonen said: “We must ensure the added value of eating high-quality meat as part of a balanced diet is communicated effectively to the consumer.”
The two-year campaign launched on Thursday (April 21) is more than just a bid to get people to eat meat, he continued, it also underlines that EU farmers meet high production standards and the benefits of the EU livestock sector and meat for growth, jobs and “vibrant rural areas”.
The meat sector must also remain competitive in the face of increasingly open international markets and successfully negotiate new global World Trade Organisation agreements such as updating its Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS agreement) and regional trade deals such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), Pesonen continued.
He stressed that the agricultural industry needed to be on its mettle, not only because it has lost heavily from the ongoing Russian ban on EU agricultural exports, but from potential competition risks posed by the proposed EU trade deal with Mercosur, covering Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil and Venezuela.
“We are paying for the politics, which is a real frustration for us,” Pesonen told GlobalMeatNews. “Agriculture had nothing to do with the original reasons [the war with Ukraine] for the EU’s trade restrictions that provoked Russia to impose an export ban.”
Reopening this market must be a priority, Pesonen emphasised. “It is hugely important that our exports are treated fairly.”
A $7bn loss
The Copa-Cogeca head said the same trend of paying for political developments was happening with Mercosur. “The EU wants to support South America with tariff-free quotas for sensitive agricultural products, which would have a catastrophic impact on the EU agriculture sector, especially beef,” with Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina being major exporters, Pesonen said.
Stressing that exports from the Mercosur bloc do not have the EU’s high environmental and safety standards, he pointed out the agreement was opposed by 20 member states at an April 11 meeting of the EU Council of Ministers (for agriculture).
“The EU agri sector risks losing more than 7 billion euros from such a deal. Mercosur is already a major exporter of agri commodities to the EU, with 86 per cent of our beef imports and 70 per cent of our poultry meat imports, and they do not need extra quotas tariff-free to increase EU trade.”
US-Dutch deal good
Pesonen welcomed the US decision to admit Dutch beef exports, now judged BSE-free, on its market. “But this is only one country after Ireland and Lithuania, although six more, including France, the UK, Denmark, Germany and Italy, are also in talks with the US on this.” He argued the BSE controls have been used as an excuse by the US to keep EU beef out, as US farm prices were almost double those in Europe.
In the face of such challenges, Pesonen said it was essential to find allies in the meat and livestock sector to combine lobbying efforts during trade talks with the US over TTIP talks, Japan during ongoing EU free trade talks, and with Canada over the implementation of the agreed EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).
On that note, he argued a Brexit from the EU would be a catastrophe. “We would lose a major ally in the National Farmers’ Union – which works well with us on the value chain, openness and transparency.”
While cutting red tape — a key UK gripe regarding the EU — was important, Pesonen said “a third of the administrative burden from the [EU] Common Agricultural Policy comes from national sources.”