EU news – Post date: June 26th, 2020.

Generalised System of Preferences: transition period extended

The transition period for the application of the Registered Exporter system (REX) has been extended to 31 December 2020 because of COVID-19, the European Commission has announced. On 5 June the EC decided to adopt an Implementing Regulation to extend the transition period for the application of the REX system in certain beneficiary countries of the GSP. The new rules were put in place as the COVID-19 pandemic has led to some countries experiencing serious difficulties respecting the 30 June time-limit for the application of the REX system.

The GSP beneficiary countries concerned by the Regulation are those that started to apply the REX system as from 1 January 2019, and for which the transition period was supposed to end at the latest on 30 June 2020. GSP beneficiary countries interested in the possibility of extending the transition period should notify DG TAXUD by 15 July 2020 at the latest.

Freshfel Europe response to EC’S Farm to Fork Strategy

Freshfel Europe, the European Fresh Produce Association, has published its response to the European Commission’s recently released Farm to Fork Strategy, part of the European Green Deal. Freshfel Europe states that it supports the scope of the Strategy, which covers every step in the food supply chain from production to consumption, and that cooperation between actors in the chain for effective collective action will be essential for systemic long-term change in the agri-food sector. Nevertheless, the association remains wary of the viability of the high ambitions for the sector outlined in the Strategy that could inhibit its competitiveness (press release, 12 June). Freshfel also notes that COVID-19 will likely cause a downturn in the global economy, which will hamper the sector’s ability to take on new costs, and affect consumers’ purchasing power for more costly products. The response makes the following key points:

  • The Strategy must support the fresh fruit and vegetable sector with concrete initiatives to support increased consumption of fruit and vegetables to boost the health of Europe’s citizens.
  • All sustainable practices in the fresh fruit and vegetable sector should be supported – ensuring circularity along the supply chain, beginning with primary production, is key to achieving a greener and more sustainable Europe.
  • Overall production environmental performance should not be disregarded in preference for organic – in many cases other production methods, such as IPM, have greater environmental benefits compared to organic production; the ambition for increased organic production must take market realities in the sector into account.
  • Holistic environmental footprints must be the basis for upcoming proposals under the Farm to Fork Strategy – ‘local’ is not always synonymous with higher environmental performance, and a sustainable food system in Europe should benefit from local, regional, national and international products that provide the highest environmental added value.
  • The fresh fruit and vegetable sector’s ability to provide high quality, safe, nutritious and affordable food to consumers and adequate return for growers should not be compromised by ambitions for significant reductions in the use of fertilisers and plant protection products.
  • Maintaining the competitiveness of the fresh fruit and vegetable sector is key – new constraints imposed on production, such as reductions in fertiliser and plant protection product use, will result in additional costs for growers and affect the competitiveness of EU production if non-EU suppliers are not complying with similar rules.
  • 2020 and beyond – successful implementation of regulatory and non-regulatory initiatives will rely on strong engagement with industry partners.

Rethinking agri-food systems in Africa

The French Development Agency (AFD) and the World Bank have just published a new book, “Agri-Food Systems in Africa. Rethinking the role of markets” (15 June). As the largest source of employment in Africa and the largest item of expenditure for African households, food is a key sector on the continent and a critical objective of sustainable development. To mark World Hunger Day, this book takes a new look at agrifood systems in Africa.

Often reduced to agricultural production issues, the food economy also encompasses agri-food processing, product supply and distribution, including logistics to reach consumers, particularly in urban areas. The food supply in African cities is undergoing a transformation under the triple effect of population growth, urbanization and changes in agricultural production and trade. From farm to plate, these changes and the risks they entail (undernutrition, malnutrition) are the subject of this collective work which analyses in depth the major shortcomings of these food distribution systems, based on the case of three cities: Rabat, Niamey and Abidjan.

Post-COVID-19 trade and development: African and Caribbean perspectives

A webinar from the Global Governance Programme on 18 June titled “Post-COVID-19 trade and development agenda: African and Caribbean perspectives and expectations from Europe” discussed whether this crisis is an opportunity to revisit the trade and development agenda. Further questions addressed in the panel include: ‘How will Africa and the Caribbean region adjust their trade strategy?’, ‘What do they expect from their partners, particularly the EU?’, and ‘In this new context, should trade policy be used to achieve non-trade policy goals?’. The online event was jointly arranged by ECDPM and the European University Institute.

EU supports a regional response to the pandemic in the Horn of Africa

The EU has announced a €60 million package to help tackle the health and socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, in support of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), a regional organisation with eight member states, in its mandate to coordinate national responses to the COVID-19 pandemic in the Horn of Africa (ReliefWeb, 17 June). The programme will focus on vulnerable groups, including migrants, refugees, internally displaced persons and cross-border communities, and will deliver medical equipment, including more than 8.5 million items of personal protective equipment. It will also help ensure borders and critical supply chains are safe for trade and promote digital solutions to monitor the crisis.

COVID-19: MEPs boost aid for farmers from the EU rural development fund

The European Parliament’s Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development has approved rules to increase the financial support that EU countries could soon give to farmers and agri-food SMEs from the EU rural development fund (European Parliament News, 11 June). The emergency measure would allow EU Member States to use money from their rural development programmes for a one-off lump-sum compensation to farmers and small rural businesses. This targeted liquidity support should help farmers and agri-food SMEs remain in business. The compensation payable to individual farmers could go as high as €7000, which is €2000 more than originally proposed by the EU Commission. An amendment was approved to extend the 31 December 2020 deadline for making the payment until 30 June 2021, although applications for support have to be approved before 31 December 2020.

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