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EC trade barriers report provides insights into agro-food sector priorities in future trade relations

22 April 2014

The European Commission (EC) has published its ‘Trade and investment barriers report 2014’, which looks at the key barriers faced in trade and investment relations with “the EU’s strategic partners, i.e. China, India, Japan, Mercosur, Russia and the United States”. The aim of the report is “to raise awareness of the main trade-restrictive measures” facing EU exporters and to “reaffirm the importance of tackling such barriers” to trade. It notes that although “substantial headway has been made on many trade-restrictive measures, some barriers still persist”, and the EU “needs to continue addressing them forcefully with its strategic partners”.

These aims form part of the EU’s wider Market Access Strategy, under which the EC “is actively engaged with a far larger group of trading partners to improve market access conditions for EU companies”. As part of the wider strategy, the EC has identified “220 barriers in 32 third-country markets”. These focus primarily on OECD countries and major advanced developing countries. Following the identification of the barriers, as a result of EC actions, “positive outcomes have occurred in 70 cases”, bringing trade benefits “amounting to approximately €2 billion annually”. However, between May 2012 and May 2013, “154 new measures were introduced by G20 members, whereas only 18 measures were lifted.” The EC adds that “overall, the total number of potentially trade-restrictive measures is estimated to have grown to 688.”

The EC notes that “in view of the EU’s comprehensive negotiating agenda”, it is “all the more important” to ensure that market access secured under trade agreements is “translated into real trade flows on the ground”.

The report notes that in the agro-food sector, trade barriers and disputes often arise with reference to:

  • the classification of regions in terms of their disease status (e.g. in trade with the US);
  • delays in securing sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) approval (India);
  • stricter application of testing requirements (China);
  • the application of SPS measures at the stage of inspections (Russia);
  • the handling of applications for import licences (US and India).

The EC is increasingly seeking to address these issues through formal trade negotiations or through confidence-building measures linked to the launch of formal negotiations (e.g. for exports of organic products and wines and spirits in trade with Japan). The EU–US negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership in particular are seen as offering new opportunities for resolving SPS issues in trade with the US.

Editorial comment

While the EC’s trade and investment barriers report primarily deals with OECD countries and advanced developing countries, it should be noted that among the ACP countries, South Africa – and via South Africa the wider southern African region – is being targeted via the formal EU Market Access Strategy described in the report. As more and more trade agreements are concluded with African countries, the EC can be expected in the case of larger partner countries such as Nigeria to pay increasing attention to the use of agricultural trade policy tools in a trade-restrictive manner. Under Nigeria’s Agricultural Transformation Agenda policy, growing use is being made of supplementary levies and import bans (see Agritrade articles ‘ Questions raised over Nigeria’s cassava blending and wheat tariff policy’, 18 November 2012, ‘ Debate intensifies on viability of Nigerian rice import ban’, 22 December 2013 and ‘ Poultry industry in West Africa struggling to deal with cheap poultry im...’, 1 December 2010). This is also an issue in terms of the implementation of the ECOWAS common external tariff, which is scheduled to come into effect in 2015 (see Agritrade article ‘Benin profits from Nigeria’s agricultural trade policy’, forthcoming 2014).

Monitoring how the EU goes about making sure that market access secured under trade agreements is “translated into real trade flows on the ground” in relations with OECD and advanced developing countries could provide some insights into the areas likely to be taken up in future in an EPA context.

The EU’s focus on preventing the use of SPS measures in a trade-restrictive manner, and establishing mechanisms through trade agreements to avert this, could potentially hold lessons for the ACP in terms of establishing mechanisms for the resolution of their own SPS disputes with the EU, and would appear to warrant close monitoring.


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