SPEECH/04/238, 11 May 2004
First may I thank the Irish Presidency for organising and hosting this informal Council. And as a native of Ireland may I also extend my own personal welcome to you all and wish you a pleasant stay.
I very much welcome the Presidency's initiative in circulating its paper, which I am sure will encourage constructive debate amongst colleagues as regards our relations with third countries, and in particular developing countries.
The Presidency paper focuses very much on the agriculture chapter of the WTO, which falls largely in the domain of my colleague, Franz Fischler. However, while the market side often steals the limelight, my responsibilities as regards SPS-related issues on which I will focus during this brief address to you today can and do have an important impact.
Indeed, as we increase free trade, non-tariff quota issues will assume centre-stage in many respects.
I need hardly remind you that food safety has been a dominant theme throughout the life of this Commission. With the active support of this Council, and of course the Parliament, we have made enormous progress in creating a state of art food safety system for Europe.
In doing so we have taken a "safety first" approach. Other issues, trade and market issues included, were not allowed to compromise our primary objective of ensuring safe food for European citizens.
One of the consequences, however, of setting high food safety standards within Europe has been suspicion from beyond our shores that our motives might go beyond our stated aims. That there might be an ulterior motive. An element of protecting our markets by making it more difficult for others to participate.
Any such suspicions are, of course, completely without foundation and just as the Presidency suggests in its paper that we take a positive stance in presenting our CAP reform successes to the rest of the world, I believe we should take an equally positive stance to reaffirm our "open door" policy as regards imports of safe food.
But while our primary objective must be to ensure safe food, a secondary objective is to ensure that trade in animal and plant products can take place in safe conditions.
Thus SPS legislation is not an obstacle to trade. Quite the opposite. It is essential to permit trade. This explains the decision to create the SPS Agreement in the Uruguay Round Agreement. This reflected the reality that rules are necessary to facilitate trade in the area of food and we welcome and adhere to this international framework.
But where does the strengthening of the European food safety system leave third countries and developing countries in particular? We rightly insist that conditions relating to imports should be no more favourable, nor less favourable, than those that apply to domestic producers. And of course we insist on parallel standards for exports to third countries, so there can be no question of lowering our standards for third country markets.
I fully accept that our standards can be difficult to meet, particularly for developing countries. But they are absolutely essential. It would be counter productive and politically untenable to undermine our food safety systems by taking a softer line on imports.
That said, we have a clear duty to help developing countries bring their systems up to scratch. Allow me to mention briefly some of the ways in which we exercise that duty:
In general terms the EU and its Member States are the largest development donors in the world. We are committed to the achievement of a fairer, more equitable and more prosperous world.
As regards food safety, the Commission is financing significant horizontal projects in the area of fisheries, pesticides and animal health targeted at the ACP countries in particular.
And these are in addition to the multitude of SPS related projects being funded under our aid programmes for individual countries.
We are the first point of call for any developing country looking for assistance to upgrade its SPS system.
The FVO has published very clear guidance for third country authorities on the procedures to be followed when importing animals and animal products into the EU.
I would add that the EU takes a far more progressive approach than our trading
partners when dealing with problems in relation to food imports. We seek proportionate
solutions to specific problems whilst ensuring that food safety standards are
And of course we have now adopted the Regulation on official food and feed controls which will come into force on 1 January 2006. This will have major implications for developing countries. In recognition of this, the Regulation includes measures for helping these countries to make the necessary improvements.
These include twinning projects with Member States and the possibility of allowing differential treatment for developing countries to address specific situations.
However we must guard against taking a tunnel vision approach to food safety standards in developing countries by focusing solely on their export markets. Their consumers deserve safe food. This is essential both in the interests of food security and public health.
Strengthening the export capacity of developing countries must take second place to the primary objective of strengthening their protective systems for the benefit of their own citizens. I am pleased to see that this important point is reflected in the Presidency's paper.
However, there needs to be a serious and sustained effort to strengthen the capacity of developing countries to meet the food safety standards of the developed world. Otherwise, the opportunities presented by tariff liberalisation in the food area will prove illusory.
The capacity of the developing countries to participate in the WTO/SPS must be strengthened as recognised by the WTO itself. They deserve our support in making more active participation a reality rather than an aspiration.
This in turn calls for full support for the "Standards and Trade Development Facility" established under the auspices of the WTO and bringing together key partner organisations such as the FAO, OIE, WHO and the World Bank.
To conclude, we need to pay attention to communicating what we have achieved, both on the market and SPS aspects. The negotiations under the Doha round have a clear focus on developing countries, and we should continue to lead the world in taking account of their particular concerns.