On May 28th 2009, the European Commission issued a communication on its agricultural product quality policy. Presenting the communication, Agriculture Commissioner Fischer Boel said that while the EU’s agri-food sector has a well deserved reputation for high quality, ‘our farmers have to build on this reputation to sustain their competitiveness’. The EC sees the main issues faced as improving communication of information to buyers and consumers, improving the coherence of existing schemes and reducing complexity.
In areas of direct relevance to ACP exporters, the EC communication argues that ‘private certification schemes can act as catalysts for developing country access to the EU market’, in particular by acting ‘as an incentive for the modernisation of developing countries’ export supply chains’ and through improving the quality of goods placed for sale on the domestic market. However, it also acknowledges that ‘private scheme requirements can be difficult to meet for some producers in certain developing countries’, and argues that ‘in the light of compliance costs, international donor assistance plays an important role in securing participation of small and medium-sized businesses, and smallholder farmers in developing countries’.
Overall the EC ‘does not support legislation for private and national certification schemes at this stage’. Specific proposals tabled in the communication include:
- extending labelling to include identification of the place where a product was produced;
- creating a register of all geographical indications (GIs), while preserving the specificities of the different systems currently in use;
- improving the functioning of the single market under various labelling schemes, particularly ‘organic’ labelling;
- improving international protection of GIs and international recognition of EU quality schemes in non-EU countries;
- promoting the development of ‘international standards for marketing standards and ‘organic’ products’;
- the development of ‘good practice’ guidelines for private certification schemes so as to reduce consumer confusion and red tape for farmers.
It is hoped that the proposals will ensure that farmers get a fair return on investments in quality production and that consumers can make more informed choices when buying food.
A Commission staff working paper has been produced, providing an impact assessment of the various options for taking forward the EU’s agricultural product quality policy in each of the areas under review (marketing standards; geographical indications; traditional specialities guaranteed; and private, national and new EU certification schemes).
The communication is the first formal stage of a process which will lead to regulatory proposals being tabled in 2010.
Addressing EU Ministers at an informal EU Council meeting on June 2nd in Brno, Commissioner Fischer Boel highlighted the ‘link between our new quality strategy and the post-2013 CAP’. According to Commissioner Fischer Boel, ‘Not only is the justification of the future CAP linked to a solid quality policy, but quality is also the strongest card we can play on our export markets’. Against this background, she argued, ‘the new quality policy for agricultural products will therefore be a cornerstone of our CAP after 2013’.
The EC agricultural product quality policy needs to be seen in the context of the growing competitive challenge from advanced developing country suppliers which EU producers face in an era of tariff reductions and global agricultural trade liberalisation. One of its primary aims is to effectively communicate the value of quality production to EU consumers so that they are willing to pay more for products meeting these quality standards. This is seen as a means of differentiating EU products from similar imported products, prices of which may be substantially lower than those required by EU producers. The aim is to enable EU producers to compete on ‘quality’, not on price.
Traditional ACP suppliers whose supply position does not allow them to compete on price with advanced developing country exporters will need to pay close attention to the evolution of the EU’s agricultural product quality policy, to ensure that the standards established do not create barriers to ACP suppliers serving high-value, high-quality components of the EU market. With new regulations scheduled to be tabled in 2010, a detailed analysis of the likely impact on ACP producers of the various EU policy options in each of the areas under consideration (marketing standards, GIs, traditional specialities guarantees and certification schemes such as ‘organic’ farming) would appear to be required. This analysis might address questions such as:
- What are the implications of the ‘place of farming’ labelling approach as opposed to the use of a label indicating that EU requirements have been complied with?
- What will be the implications for ACP beef producers of the development of ‘animal welfare labelling’ schemes?
- What could be the implications of the possible establishment of an official EU carbon footprint labelling scheme?
- What will be the implications for ACP producers and exporters of ‘organic’ products of the introduction of an obligatory EU ‘organic’ logo for all EU-farmed ‘organic’ products from 2010?
- What will be the implications for ‘organic’ producers in ACP countries of proposals for the mutual recognition of ‘organic’ standards with non-EU countries?