Minister Han, President Jagoe, ladies and gentlemen,
Let me first of all join with Alan in welcoming Minister Han Changfu to Brussels. You honour us with your visit and I am grateful for this opportunity to build on the very positive and constructive relationship we developed during my visits to China last year.
I am also pleased that we have chosen to focus on the critically important policy area of young farmers today.
The EU and China are strengthening and deepening our links and cooperation in the agricultural sector, including in the area of generational renewal.
During one of my visits to China last year, I had the honour to speak at China Agricultural University, one of the world’s leading institutes of agricultural education.
I outlined to a mixed audience of policymakers, faculty and students that there is great potential for further cooperation between our regions, particularly as we strengthen the role that research and innovation can play in sustaining and improving global agriculture.
I was particularly keen to encourage the Chinese students I met to face the future with ambition and develop an innovative and research-based approach to their work.
In China, just as in Europe and indeed every region of the world, we need to stimulate a new generation of young agri-entrepreneurs to develop the agri-food sector of the 21st Century.
However, I have been quite clear that this will only happen if we as policymakers provide the right support structures. I commend and support China's focus on sustainable agricultural development, notably through improving world food and agriculture governance.
Likewise, I have made it a clear policy priority to restore the question of young farmers and generational renewal to the forefront of agricultural policymaking in Europe.
Bringing these issues fully into the policy mainstream is vital if we are serious about building a smarter, leaner, cleaner food production system.
As you are aware, the European Commission in December announced a roadmap to begin designing the future CAP, which will culminate with the publication of a Commission Communication by the end of 2017.
This process is now well underway with a wide-ranging public consultation, which is open until May 2nd - a little over a week from now. I expect strong and bold submissions from the organisations representing young European farmers.
And these issues matter internationally, too. The EU and China face similar challenges as regards policies and support measures to encourage younger generations to enter the agricultural sector and retain young farmers and professionals in this profession.
As I told the CEJA General Assembly last year, these challenges relate to access to finance, access to land and access to knowledge. We're looking at a variety of options at Commission level to address these issues. And there are also excellent initiatives taking place at national level.
On that basis, the future CAP will continue to promote a successful and productive cooperation between the EU and China in the agricultural sector;
And today we can join forces to demonstrate a project which represents an excellent example of the wide-ranging nature of our cooperation.
As well as our ongoing discussions around Geographical Indications high quality products, trade and market access; we also recognise the role of young farmers in keeping the countryside alive and promoting a more sustainable, competitive and modern agriculture.
I am confident that this will prove to be a successful exchange programme;
It will facilitate effective sharing and dissemination of experiences and best practices in sustainable agriculture and agri-businesses;
It will enhance capacity building in modern farming techniques and reinforce the concepts of green development and good environmental practices;
It will improve knowledge of cooperation between government entities, local agencies, research institutes and cooperative structures in the EU Member States and China. Navigating this web of bodies will be important for young farmers in establishing their holdings and finding the correct supports.
It will increase trust and reinforce mutual understanding among European and Chinese young farmers;
And – crucially - it is also about people to people exchanges;
Anything which involves real people is always good for telling a positive story;
So let me conclude by saying that I am very pleased to launch this project today and I look forward to its fruitful implementation during 2017 and 2018.
During my speech to China Agricultural University last year, I mentioned a Chinese proverb that I found very apt: "The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now."
When it comes to empowering a new generation of innovative and ambitious farmers and agricultural professionals to build the sustainable agriculture and agri-business of the future, let's work together to plant the trees now. Thank you.