Special Event – The importance of trade for EU agri-food competitiveness and sustainable innovation: resilience v. self-sufficiency?

Speakers: Clarke John, Rasmussen Esben Egede, Simovic Ksenija, Hackbart Bartosz
Moderator: Bolognaro Kait

On the 15th November 2023, CropLife Europe, with PubAffairs Bruxelles as media partner, organised an evening of discussion in the European Parliament on the importance of trade EU agri-food competitiveness and sustainable innovation: resilience vs self-sufficiency, with Mr John Clarke, Former Director, International Relations Officer, European Commission, DG AGRI; Mr Esben Egede Rasmussen, Managing Director, Danish Dairy Board; Ms Ksenija Simovic, Senior Policy Adviser, COPA COGECA and Mr Bartosz Hackbart, International Relations Officer, European Commission, DG AGRI.

The debate was moderated by Kait Bolongaro, Managing Editor, MLex.

Kait Bolongaro opened the event by welcoming attendees, introducing herself and the speakers, while thanking Salvatore De Meo MEP for hosting the debate in the European Parliament. The moderator then introduced Mr John Clarke, former Director at the European Commission who provided the keynote speech. 

John Clarke opened his keynote speech by specifying that he no longer works for the European Commission and, therefore, if any of his remarks bore any resemblance to EU policy, it would be purely coincidental. Subsequently, the keynote speaker presented the view that open trade in agrifood products is essential for the resilience of the EU sector and further explained that resilience signifies the ability of the sector to absorb, anticipate and reduce shocks in the first place. He reminded the audience that the agrifood sector had been heavily stress tested in the last few years with the cumulative impact of the so-called “three C’s” or three crises, namely Covid, Conflict and Climate Change.

First of all, Covid, and the associated recession that it triggered, had a valuable impact on food production and prices and changed consumption patterns. More broadly, it also led to an increase in poverty and hunger outside of Europe, he explained. Secondly, Conflict, notably the Russian invasion of Ukraine, has affected the availability and affordability of basic foodstuffs and, thirdly, Climate Change is still having a major impact on agricultural production, farmers livelihoods and food prices, he added. Mr Clarke also said that he believed that both the EU and other actors have started to learn some lessons from the “three C’s”.

He continued by elaborating on the first “C”, namely Covid, as the crisis taught the world the importance of keeping supply chains open, so that food can continue to move internationally across borders. In this connection, he explained how open trade, in particular the avoidance of export restrictions is, in the speaker’s view, essential. He subsequently elaborated on export restrictions, which, in his opinion, only encourage “beggar thy neighbour” hoarding and therefore reduce food supply, while raising prices for import-dependent countries. In this regard, he proposed that EU trade policy should make a major push to prevent unwarranted export restrictions, which would only increase prices and aggravate hunger and poverty. While saying that Covid left calls in Europe for more local production, Mr Clarke maintained that this can be a solution only up to a certain point by explaining that the world needs a mix of local, national, regional and global supply and sourcing in order to have price stability and food availability.

Mr Clarke then tackled the second “C”, namely Conflict and its impact on cereal and fertiliser supply, that has also taught Europe and the world some lessons, above all, on the excessive dependency on one market, one supplier or one source. This was a lesson that Europe partially learnt already in 2014 following the Russian import ban on 5.6 billion worth of European exports, he specified. In this instance, he said that there is also the importance of diversification, which, in some respects, contradicts somehow the call for more self-sufficiency. In his opinion, a complete reliance on imports or a complete reliance on domestic supply are equally risky strategies. He also noted that Europe is 85% self-sufficient in food, while, for example, the African continent is far too import-dependent and needs to produce more for itself. Subsequently, Mr Clarke appreciated and welcomed the EU’s efforts to use trade policies, notably by growing network of bilateral trade agreements, as a strategy to diversify markets and sources of food supply. He regretted that the deal with Australia fell through, but he hoped that it will in a way galvanise the EU to ensure that reasonable deals with India and Mercosur countries are achieved.

Mr Clarke subsequently engaged the third “C”, namely, Climate Change, by noting how extreme weather events have had great impacts, while elaborating on Europe’s perception change. First of all, he noted that climate change has shown the European farming sector to be also the victim of climate and extreme weather and not simply the perpetrator of emissions. He also expressed the opinion that this was a very important shift in both perception and the political narrative, as farmers are accordingly seen now as part of the solution and not just part of the problem. In this connection, he highlighted how the rationale of the European Green Deal, the Farm to Fork strategy and the EU Biodiversity strategy, as well as other international policy initiatives, stem from these last considerations. He continued by emphasising that, although Europe is the only major producing region in the last 30 years that has both increased its productivity by hectare and reduced its emissions. However, he also added that Europe cannot rest on its laurels as there is still a long way still to go.

Coming to the central theme of the debate, Mr Clarke affirmed that resilience and sustainability are two sides of the same coin, as, without sustainable agricultural practices, the sector’s long-term existence would be at risk, he remarked. He also elaborated on the threat climate change represents as well as its mitigating factors, while noting the dangers of putting a brake on climate related-regulations, as the cost of inaction will be extremely high. The speaker subsequently stated that trade policies have a very important role in combating climate change, whether it is liberalising green goods and technologies or setting up transparent investment regimes that will attract quality infrastructure. He also thought that by cutting trade distorting subsidies, which have a proven damaging effect on the environment, on soil and water quality and biodiversity, as well as by opening markets, agrifood products that are produced more efficiently with the fewest inputs and the lowest environmental footprint can flow freely and remain affordable.

Mr Clarke concluded his keynote speech by saying that Europe, as the world’s biggest trader and exporter in agrifood products, is dependent on trade in both directions and should follow the example of Ulysses in the Odyssey by strapping itself to the mast and being very wary of the siren calls for less trade.

The moderator thanked John Clarke for his keynote speech and subsequently started the panel debate by asking a general question, namely “what role do trade policies have in supporting the EU agrifood competitiveness and sustainable innovation?”

Ksenija Simovic responded to this question by saying that trade is one of the pivotal policies that the agricultural sector monitors at EU level. As a Europe-wide policy, it is very impactful as Europe trades with the whole world and farmers are aware of what happens globally and understand the dynamics of competitiveness, she added. From an industry standpoint, EU trade policies are positively perceived and the agricultural sector is willing to continue to foster an open and fair trade, although the question of fairness is sometimes being challenged due to the elevated standards that exist in Europe, she stated. She subsequently noted that, the agrifood sector would like to see improvements in standards from non-EU trading partners and as an export-driven economic domain, it is very supportive of trade policies as it largely benefits from EU agreements. She concluded by saying that the agricultural sector in Europe is renowned because of high quality standards and its trade relations that are fostered across the globe.

The moderator subsequently asked Esben Egede Rasmussen to give his take on EU trade policies and agrifood competitiveness and sustainable innovation.

Esben Egede Rasmussen began by considering the general thought that an open and competitive economy is the ideal combination to perform at best, an opinion which the Danish dairy industry, in particular, and the Danish industry, in general, are supportive of. He also specified that 75% of the food production in Denmark is exported, more specifically 50% to other EU member states and 25% to non-EU countries. He then affirmed that having customers from all over the world demands being cost-effective and that this is an essential feature for any industry, including the agricultural sector, not only to be competitive, but also, as Mr Clarke stated beforehand, in order to drive sustainability forward. He concluded his reply by noting that the Danish Dairy Board would like to continue to have an EU trade policy that supports open and fair trade, as well as a WTO which fosters further a rule-based, transparent and effective global trade system to ensure prosperity and sustainability in the long run.

The moderator then turned to Bartosz Hackbart in order for him to provide insight from the European Commission on the same topic. 

Bartosz Hackbart started by agreeing with the overall statements given and introduced some figures concerning agrifood trade that were published by the European Commission. Taking figures from 2022, he explained that there was an excellent result in terms of trade, partly due to high prices, but also to the competitiveness of EU agricultural sector, with exports largely surpassing imports. He also added that there was a positive trade balance of 58 billion euros, a fact which constitutes a valuable advantage for the EU farming sector. In 2023, he said, this trend has continued, with the latest figures available only up until July 2023. However, he stated that so far, EU’s exports have been slightly higher in value compared to last year, but rather similar in terms of volume. The exception to this state of play was constituted by cereals and, to a lesser extent, by some other products, he specified and added that cereals constitute the European Union’s contribution to food security by making high quality products and staple food available on the global market. He concluded his speech by stating that the results of the EU’s exports are a clear sign of Europe’s competitiveness, as well as an opportunity to improve the overall sustainability of the agricultural sector.

The moderator then directed the debate towards the topic of the war in Ukraine, as the Russian invasion has resulted in an increase in prices of fertilisers and energy costs. Against this backdrop she asked Ksenija Simovic how the war has impacted European farmers.

Ksenija Simovic acknowledged that indeed the Ukraine war has been very impactful, but as Mr Clarke mentioned before, she remarked that it has really been the “three C’s” together that have had a cumulative impact. She also stated that the conflict in Ukraine came right after the Covid 19 pandemic, which had been a serious crisis for the agrifood sector, and that farmers have dealt with the pandemic efficiently. Indeed, she said that as the farming sector was raising up its resilience level and adapting to the Covid crisis, the conflict in Ukraine has put the agricultural sector in crisis mode again, all of a sudden. Of course, high energy prices, which affected prices of inputs had a great impact on the production costs, which has been taken upstream as well, however, it has been very impactful also for the farmers, she added.

Ms Simovic continued by noting that fertilisers in particular usually represent the largest share of their input costs, somewhere between 30-50% depending on crop type and regions and stated that, at a certain point, their price went up to 927 euro per tonne. She remarked that current prices are a bit fairer, namely around 440 euro per tonne, however, she also emphasised that two years ago the price was roughly 246 euro per tonne. This exponential increase in the cost of production has unfortunately been passed further up the chain and has valuably impacted consumers, she acknowledged. Against this backdrop, Ms Simovic believed that one of the most important impacts of the Ukraine war is inflation in agrifood products both in Europe and globally.

The speaker subsequently noted that food inflation reached the level of 17.8% on average in Europe, a significant factor that has influenced purchasing patterns. The speaker subsequently admitted that the war in Ukraine is something that preoccupies the EU agricultural sector, not only because of the impact it has on inputs, but also because of the new trading relationship with Ukraine, which is still, even at war, an agricultural powerhouse that not only needs to export its production, but it is also a pillar of global food security. She concluded her speech by highlighting the importance of facilitating Ukraine’s exports, while acknowledging that the current situation is impacting Ukraine’s neighbouring countries and Europe’s agricultural sector.

Kait Bolongaro then asked Bartosz Hackbart whether Europe has a role to play in ensuring global food security.

Bartosz Hackbart firstly acknowledged that global food security is a question which goes beyond the core EU competences, however, as Mr Clarke already referred to, there is a number of net food-importing countries around the world. In this connection, he believed that what has been unfolding globally in terms of food security is worrying, as several countries have and are requiring urgent food assistance. Indeed, last year, 258 million people around the world needed food assistance, and this year, although the figures are not comparable, as the subset of countries and the analysis was conducted on a smaller scale, there has been 238 million people requiring it, constituting an increase of 10% over the last year for the countries for which data was available both in 2022 and 2023. As a result, he continued, it would be correct to say that the global impact of the several crises the world has undergone is deteriorating. In addition, he warned of the fact that the latest reports are predicting that the question of food security will further aggravate in 22 countries around the world in 2024. He also acknowledged that, at the same time, the overall world population is growing with some projections forecasting a global population to up to 10 billion people by 2050.

He subsequently highlighted that the EU has played and will play a role in different ways to address the global food security concerns. First of all, the European Union as a whole has tried to alleviate this unprecedented food security crisis with the so-called “Team Europe” approach, namely a coordinated action between the European institutions and its member states, by dedicating 18 billion euros to support measures which go into providing the necessary help in food assistance, but also into investments in more sustainable production in partner countries. Mr Hackbart added that advocating for open trade, as Mr Clarke mentioned, is still an effective way to achieve a better allocation of agrifood products across the globe.

To follow up on what Ms Simovic stated regarding Ukraine, the speaker added that the EU has taken some measures to liberalise trade. In addition, since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the EU has helped the country to secure its exports through the Solidarity Lanes Action Plan, which is actually growing into a much larger initiative, especially with the prospect of Ukraine’s negotiations accession and closing the ties with EU neighbouring countries in the eastern part of Europe. On the same note, the speaker stated that Ukraine used to export up to 45 million tonnes of grain per year, mainly to northern African and middle eastern countries, while, as the production potential has diminished due to the war, the Solidarity Lanes Action Plan managed to take up a large amount of these exports through different terrestrial and fluvial corridors and bring them to world markets helping to address global food security concerns.

In relation to the “three C’s” John Clarke elaborated on in the keynote speech, the moderator asked Esben Egede Rasmussen his perspective on how the combination of Covid, the conflict in Ukraine and climate change have impacted the EU public debate on food security and resilience.

Esben Egede Rasmussen acknowledged that this was certainly due to the fact that geopolitics and international confrontations are back, often fuelled by identity politics and nationalistic rhetoric and sentiments. These dynamics made businesses become wearier as there is a degree of uncertainty in the global economic system in general has augmented. Even though it is clear that the global economic and political system has been changing from the post-World War II and the Cold War, it is now under pressure as, for example, food and energy can be weaponised.

However, Mr Rasmussen wished to take an optimistic perspective, given that, in his opinion, it is now evident that the EU political economy, its institutions, the single market and its supply chains have guaranteed a fair degree of stability notwithstanding the series of crises. The speaker also pointed out that based on the numbers in his possession, the trade system that covers 25% of the world production experiences shocks, it will continue to work. These are the reasons for which, from his perspective, it is very important to keep trade open and running and avoid weaponising and politicising essential goods which are needed by the world’s population.

Subsequently, the moderator asked Ksenija Simovic to what extent was Europe’s food production interconnected with non-EU markets and what actions could be taken to improve the resilience of food production.

Ksenija Simovic acknowledged that Europe is largely interconnected and that the European Union has a degree of dependency from non-EU markets, as there are certain categories of products that Europe cannot produce competitively and are important to facilitate production or to process high-value products, which, in turn, contribute to Europe’s positive trade balance. She reiterated that the EU agrifood sector largely operates in international markets, hence it must be vigilant and proactive in terms of both market dynamics and other initiatives that impact farming and agrifood production globally.

Regarding the improvement of the EU agrifood sector’s resilience, Ms Simovic expressed the opinion that every crisis can be transformed into an opportunity. For example, the Covid pandemic has been useful to understand where bottlenecks are as well as to understand the weak points of the supply chain. She also added that, with the assistance of EU institutions, investments were made to address this question and observed that both Covid and the Ukraine crisis have brought forward the strategic importance of the agricultural sector and emphasised that there is a widespread debate on strategic autonomy in the domain of energy, however the agrifood industry would also like to see a discussion about the same topic for the agrifood sector. In addition, she stated that, in her opinion, there should be a European public debate centred around food affordability, instead of self-sufficiency, in order to ensure that there is a competitive production that allows European citizens to afford a good variety of products to sustain their diets and lifestyles.

Looking forward, Ms Simovic expressed the opinion that when the agricultural sector considers sustainability and its long-term resilience, it always touches upon three pillars, namely the economic, the social and the environmental one. She also highlighted that if these three pillars are not tackled together, the long-term resilience of the sector would be at risk. She stated that in economic terms, making sure that farmers are making a decent living is essential, while stating that trade is important as a stream of revenue for farmers to remain competitive. On the same note, she added that ensuring that there is a fair repartition of value along the chain is also of fundamental importance.

Concerning the social aspects, Ms Simovic underscored the value of working not only with the sector, but also with its partners, the civil society at large and internationally for a better acknowledgement of the farmers’ role in our contemporary society. In this connection, she highlighted that it is also pivotal for farmers to feel encouraged to make investments going forward and to ensure a generational renewal as, in her opinion, the main issue that the agricultural sector is currently facing is indeed generational renewal, which is not only fundamental to guarantee food production, but also to preserve rural areas and invest in their future.

Finally, regarding the environmental side, she insisted that often times the agricultural sector is perceived as conservative domain which is cutting the branch on which it is sitting, without enough consideration of the actual challenges it is faced with. In this context, she drew attention to the fact that a higher degree of investments, not only from the Common Agricultural Policy, would allow not only an improvement in efficiency of production, but also a more sustainable farming.  In this connection, she emphasised that taking into consideration a higher degree of coherence between external and internal policies and the fact that EU high standards are often not applied in non-EU countries would be useful to foster more environmentally and socially sustainable agricultural practices both within and outside the EU.

The moderator addressed Bartosz Hackbart regarding the EU trade deficit in certain agrifood products and asked what the possible solutions could be to ensure EU food security in case there would be lower levels of imports from third countries.

As premise to his response, Bartosz Hackbart noted that the public debate surrounding food in the EU has mainly concentrated on food affordability for consumers and not necessarily on food availability. He then drew the audience’s attention towards a recent publication of the EU Food Security Crisis Preparedness and Response Mechanism (EFSCM), established during the Covid Crisis and through which a contingency plan for food supply and food security in times of crisis was developed. Within this polity, he specified, the European Commission puts forward a quality assessment on EU food security, the most recent of which was published the previous week. The speaker subsequently presented some conclusions from this report, which has identified extreme weather events as a probable cause of lower production globally and price volatility in the EU. He then clarified that the war in Ukraine and other economic shocks have caused higher input prices and production costs and, consequently, higher food prices, while adding that climate-related events are going to negatively impact imports from third countries and, unfortunately, also food affordability in Europe. 

Regarding self-sufficiency, the report tried to quantify self-sufficiency of food production in Europe and concluded that self-sufficiency especially in animal products, is pretty consolidate while arable crops values varies according to the type while there are slight differences in fresh fruit and vegetables, depending on whether they were processed or consumed directly, he explained. Regarding possible solutions, the speaker pointed to the balance between self-sufficiency and improving some sectors of production also by diversifying agrifood trade, he then invited the audience to read the report the European Commission published not long ago on the diversification of EU agri food trade, the conclusions of which indicate that EU agri food trade is actually quite well diversified with various trade partners all over the globe. The speaker said that the publication analyses the years from 2012 to 2022 when there has been a greater diversification of trade partners both for exports and imports and noted that EU exports are even more diversified than the other large trading blocks, such as the US or Brazil.

However, the report also draws attention to the fact that certain product categories have more concentrated imports, such as oil seeds, protein crops and some cereals may have a higher concentration of imports. Mr Hackbart said that the European Commission has expanded the network of free trade agreements and reaffirmed that this has been needed in order to have more stable and regulated trade that allows a diversity of sources for both EU exports and imports. He concluded by stating that this is also a way to mitigate the external aspects of the European Union’s trade, as a reduction in imports very often stems from external shocks.

The moderator directed a question to Esben Egede Rasmussen, inquiring about the potential challenges faced by feed suppliers when trading with the EU, given the substantial volume of EU imports of the Danish Dairy Industry.

In response to this question, Esben Egede Rasmussen acknowledged a primary challenge in meeting the several rules and regulations associated with trading the EU, although this is a similar challenge to the one  faced by European businesses.   He asserted that the European market boasts the world’s highest food safety and animal welfare standards. Consequently, businesses seeking to trade in the EU must adhere to these rules, regulations and high standards. Despite this inherent challenge, Mr Rasmussen also recognised valuable opportunities in the EU market, emphasising the necessity of striking a balance between consumer demands for high standards and a fair and reasonable regulatory framework.

The speaker further emphasised the global nature of product supply chains in the international market, noting that approximately 70 percent of agrifood products involve the global value chain. He also remarked the intricate connections with the EU production process, highlighting that components are sourced from various regions across the world and cautioned against imposing impractical standards, as they could result not only in a loss of trade partners, but also in affecting negatively sustainability-driven policies. In conclusion, he reiterated the importance of finding the right balance between keeping trading partners engaged and having a sustainable a prosperous EU internal market, a pivotal matter of the trade agreements Europe has finalised and will continue to put forward.

The moderator redirected the discussion back to the theme of self-sufficiency by querying Ksenija Simovic about the potential consequences for Europe’s food production in pursuing self-sufficiency.

Ksenija Simovic replied by stating that the reply would really depend on how “self-sufficiency” is defined, as there are certain categories of product that are not producible or, at least, not in a competitive way. She also remarked that consumers’ baskets have changed drastically nowadays, as have their expectations, too. In this connection, she stated that she would rather engage with the topic of “strategic autonomy” and the EU’s role in securing food security, not just in Europe but also globally. She also acknowledged that, fortunately, Europe has not faced major challenges in food security, but she pointed out that the affordability of food has become a concern.

Ms Simovic also acknowledged the need for improvement in specific areas, such as protein crops, and advocated for a strategic approach involving better genetic material aligned with EU standards, while emphasising the importance of the EU agrifood competitiveness. The speaker also reiterated John Clarke’s statements about improving agricultural resilience by addressing dependencies and developing adaptability to external market shocks. In addition, using the example of mineral fertilizers, Ms Simovic argued for investments in alternative development and diversification of the EU’s supply chain.

Beyond market production, she highlighted the importance of the “four F’s” of agriculture, namely food, feed, fuels and fiber. Indeed, agriculture, according to the speaker, plays a diverse role, extending beyond food production to contribute significantly to climate mitigation, the bioeconomy and circular economy models. Ms Simovic finally underscored the potential of biomass and the role of farmers and foresters as producers that turn what is considered waste into a valuable resource. For this reason, she urged the audience to consider agriculture beyond food production, emphasising its importance for valorising the agricultural sector in the future.

Building on Ms Simovic’s answer, the moderator noted the crucial role that trade plays in fostering competitiveness, innovation and sustainability within and outside the EU agri-food sector. The moderator highlighted the connection between self-sufficiency and strategic autonomy, prompting a question to Bartosz Hackbart on how the EU envisioned integrating these elements into the broader framework of the strategic autonomy.

Bartosz Hackbart began by referencing Ms Simovic’s earlier remarks, stating that the EU’s strategic autonomy concept should be considered within the context of the green transition. In addition, he saw it as an effort to address vulnerabilities arising from the “three C’s”, while capitalising on opportunities for international trade to enhance the EU’s global engagement. Mr Hackbart outlined the benefits of addressing planetary challenges tied to climate change and remarked the importance of integrating regional and global supply chains collaboratively, rather than setting them against each other.

He commended the European Commission’s perspective during the last crisis, citing its initiatives on food security, sector’s resilience and fertilizers, which had significant impacts on producers, as previously mentioned by Ms Simovic. Looking ahead, the speaker identified some of the EU’s major challenges, including grappling with climate and environmental issues while adapting to changing consumption patterns. He emphasised that the response to these challenges are aligned with the European Green Deal, an approach through which the EU aims to pave a transition pathway toward a more sustainable production.

Mr Hackbart subsequently stressed the collaborative nature of this transition, stating that the EU seeks to embark on this path together with its trade partners. He underscored the essential role of trade in achieving sustainability goals, emphasising that it plays a crucial part in navigating the complexities posed by climate and environmental challenges, while accommodating the shifts in consumption patterns.

Expanding on Bartosz Hackbart’s insights, the moderator shifted the focus to the core of EU trade policies, directing a question to Esben Egede Rasmussen about how recent developments have affected the competitiveness of EU agri-food trade.

Esben Egede Rasmussen acknowledged the generally positive impact of the EU’s open approach in various free trade agreements, which have contributed to the strengthening of the EU competitiveness in global markets. He also remarked the existing strong competition within the EU and highlighted the critical importance of a well-functioning and fair internal market. However, the speaker shared the concerns from the Danish Dairy Board, pointing out worries related to internal market trends. These concerns included some arguments put forward for regionalisation and local production as well as others that lack a foundation of scientific advice but seemed to be rather driven by national politics.

Mr Rasmussen firmly believed that for a trade policy to effectively support competitiveness and a robust agricultural sector, it should primarily focus on trade-related issues. He stressed the need for such policies to avoid becoming entangled in solving broader political problems, as separate actions should address those concerns. This perspective emphasised the importance of targeted and streamlined trade policies for the benefit of the agrifood sector’s competitiveness.

The moderator proposed one final question to the panel before moving on the audience participation, and she asked each of them to give their opinion on whether they thought resilience and self-sufficiency had contradictory objectives.

Ksenija Simovic held a different perspective, expressing that the agricultural sector has never prioritised self-sufficiency to a great extent. Instead, she emphasised the sector’s focus on building resilience for the future, remaining competitive and ensuring its ability to provide for EU citizens and the European society at large. She also highlighted the multifaceted nature of the sector’s resilience, often shaped by policies at a European level, where trade plays a crucial role. She reiterated the importance of the EU’s global engagement by remarking that European farmers are eager to remain engaged worldwide.

Esben Egede Rasmussen echoed a similar opinion, stating that resilience in the agricultural sector stems from well-functioning supply chains. He remarked the Danish industry’s favourability in continuing to seek Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) and diversifying markets to enhance resilience. He also acknowledged that while Europe is already present in several markets, further diversification would contribute to a more resilient food chain. He cautioned against attempting to produce lower-quality products at higher prices, process which could isolate Europe from the rest of the world. Mr Rasmussen subsequently stressed the importance of maintaining a cooperative approach and sharing mutual interests instead of over-protecting specific markets.

Bartosz Hackbart substantially concurred with both Ms Simovic and Mr Rasmussen, noting that the European Commission is aligning resilience and self-sufficiency by pursuing tighter FTAs and addressing environmental and sustainability challenges. He supported the notion that European farmers are globally engaged, while remarking the need to address climate challenges globally and collaboratively through trade.

The Q&A session covered the following issues: Diversification of the markets, bilateral trade, the Mercosur Agreement, free trade, geopolitics, strengthening EU relations with third countries, sustainable development, open markets, climate challenges, security of supply, sugar trade and the EU deficit, competitively priced inputs, strategic autonomy, resilience vs protectionism, sustainable development goals, the role of Spanish Presidency of the EU, reducing dependencies in the agrifood sector, the tomato trade in the EU, the Emission Trading System, equivalency with EU trade partners, the European Green Deal, the EU deforestation regulation, reciprocity on production standards, Farm to Fork initiative, science- based decision-making.

Do you wish to know more about the issues discussed in this debate? Then check out the selected sources provided below!

Trade Policy Review – An Open, Sustainable and Assertive Trade Policy, Communication, European Commission

Commission sets course for an open, sustainable and assertive EU trade policy, Press Release, European Commission

An open sustainable and assertive EU trade policy, Factsheet, European Commission

Competitive EU agri-food sector achieves high level of diversification in trade, European Commission

Annual Report on the Implementation and Enforcement of EU Trade Policy, European Commission

State of Food Security in the EU, Autumn 2023, European Food Security Crisis preparedness and response mechanism (EFSCM), European Commission

Ensuring global food supply and food security, The European Food Security Crisis preparedness and response mechanism (EFSCM), European Commission

Commission acts for global food security and for supporting EU farmers and consumers, Press Release, European Commission

Ensuring availability and affordability of fertilisers, Communication, European Commission

Resilient EU2030: a roadmap for strengthening the EU’s resilience and competitiveness, Spanish Presidency of the EU Council