"Building Sustainable Agricultural Trade "

Thank you for your introduction Theresa. Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you for your warm welcome. The Graduate Institute has a well-deserved reputation for producing highly qualified experts with a global conscience. This is very important in the present time.

Young people with a broad international outlook matter more than ever, in an era when too many leaders are calling into question the international agreements and institutions that have served humanity so well for generations. So keep up the good work!

Today we're going to discuss how sustainable agricultural trade can provide solutions to many of society's shared international challenges. I want to provide you with a flavour of the work we're doing in the European Union, from both an inclusive trade and sustainability perspective.

I hope you'll agree that what we have built in Europe is one of history's most successful examples of international cooperation, and among our Member States, the Common Agricultural Policy governs farming and food production. The CAP, which falls under my area of responsibility as Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, is responsible for maintaining food security for the people of Europe.

The objectives of the CAP are fixed by the EU Treaties and have not changed since 1958. The policy, however, has changed substantially. Traditionally, the CAP was an inward-looking and protectionist policy.

However, it has evolved in recent decades to become far more outward-looking and conscious of its impact abroad as well as at home. Reaching EU-wide agreement on these reforms was not easy, and it took time, but the process is worthwhile because a solid policy backbone is the only way to guarantee sustainable food production in this day and age.

Today, the CAP continues to guarantee a decent livelihood for European farmers and agri-businesses, and can be summarised in three key aims:

  • Viable food production contributing to food security;

  • The sustainable use of resources;

  • And balanced territorial development of our rural areas.

And the policy is now fully plugged into the global economy. European farmers and agri-businesses compete in international markets to sell our high-quality food and drink products. And the results in recent times are very positive: we recently published the latest figures on EU agri-food trade, for November 2016.

Monthly exports stood at a record level of €11.7 billion, adding up to a 12-month value of more than €130 billion.

The EU now has a positive agri-trade balance of almost €20 billion, compared with €2.6 billion just 6 years ago. This makes us the world largest agri-food exporter.

The growth of agri-food exports preserves the economic prosperity of rural communities across the continent, particularly in the maintenance and creation of jobs.

The second part of this equation is that a more global outlook contributes to a more nuanced understanding of the policy's impact on other parts of the world.

Policymakers as well the broader agri-food community now clearly understand that a number of EU Policies – including the CAP - have a strong role to play in improving global food security and feeding the planet in a sustainable way.

In this regards, inclusive agricultural trade can be an important driver of both growth and development.

The new CAP has a far stronger market orientation, which means fewer market-intervention measures. This in turn means fewer production and trade distorting effects.

The EU was a leading player in the Nairobi WTO negotiations in December 2015 which eliminated export subsidies and disciplined the use of other measures of the export competition pillar.

The Nairobi negotiation process is one of the clearest signs of the enormous change which the CAP has undergone. The EU was a leader and we were joined by an unusual group of countries including Brazil, Argentina, New Zealand, Uruguay, Peru and others. We worked closely together despite many past differences on agriculture policy and in the finish we achieved not only a positive result, but also one which strengthened the system through effective cooperation.

And as well as being an exporting powerhouse, the EU is the largest importer of agricultural products from developing countries.

Our trade openness contributes to boosting the agricultural sector and rural economy of these countries.

Indeed, the value of EU imports has been increasing significantly in recent years, both from low-income and lower-middle income countries eligible for the GSP regime, and from Least Developed Countries eligible for duty-free, quota-free market access under the "Everything But Arms" provisions.

The statistics speak for themselves: the value of EU agri-food imports from these developing countries is higher than the US, Canada, Japan, Russia and China combined!

Agriculture remains central for many WTO members, notably developing countries. And I would like to reaffirm our own commitment to the rules based WTO system.

It is a pleasure to be in Geneva in the week when the Trade Facilitation Agreement comes into force. We were a driving force in securing this Agreement and it is a fantastic example of how the WTO can bring real benefits to all countries. Congratulations to all parties involved for this achievement.

The EU is a strong supporter of the multilateral trading system and will do its best to reach a successful outcome at MC 11 in Buenos Aires at the end of this year. Agriculture must be a key component of a successful MC11 package.

We believe that a positive outcome on Domestic Support would benefit the multilateral trading system.

Let me now turn to the second part of the equation: sustainability.

We know that as global population growth accelerates, the world needs to produce more and better food. In the 21st Century, with our knowledge, wealth and technology, no-one should have to experience systematic hunger.

But population growth will also put even greater pressure on our environment and resources. So the way we think about food, and the way we produce food, has to adapt accordingly. We need to make 21st century agriculture more efficient, and more sustainable.

Farmers play a key role in combating climate change and managing precious resources like soil and water – who is better placed to manage our natural habitats than those who work in nature?

The COP21 Climate Agreement and Sustainable Development Goals provide a good roadmap for policy targets.

In SDG 12, to take one example, there is an emphasis on the sustainable use of resources and climate action through responsible consumption and production.

Climate action is the priority of SDG 13, while "life on land" - in other words how we manage forests, tackle land degradation, and stop biodiversity loss is the focus of SDG 15.

These targets are universal, and must be reflected in both our internal and external policies in order to be implemented. Within the EU, we are shifting policy priorities to empower our farmers and agricultural systems to play their full part.

In fact, agriculture and rural development policies have already contributed significantly. Since 1990, the CAP has achieved a 23% reduction in carbon emissions and a 17.7% reduction in nitrates in rivers. Approximately €57 billion will be spent on research and development in the 2014-2020 period to improve the sustainability of European agriculture.

Abroad, particularly when it comes to the EU's relationship with developing countries, the Sustainable Development Goals have quite rightly moved beyond the notion that donor aid should drive agricultural improvement.

Instead, the emphasis is now firmly on "Agriculture policy", as distinct and complementary to development from donor aid.

Because the right domestic policies are required to attract private sector investment in the agrifood sector, which will be the biggest generator of jobs in Africa and other developing countries in the years ahead.

I want the new European Investment Fund to leverage private investment in Africa, particularly in agriculture.

Achieving food and nutrition security through sustainable agriculture is now at the centre of EU support programmes in developing countries.

It is the focal sector of EU assistance in 60 developing countries, particularly in Africa.

Our support goes to developing value chains, and providing market access for small holders to local, national and regional markets. 

We also make sure that our trade policies are development-friendly. 

In addition, we have agreed with our African partners to set up enhanced dialogues on agriculture and food security, and to share information and best practices on our domestic support and other policies in the farming sector.

Therefore, the EU supports sustainable farming practices in developing countries, focusing on smallholder agriculture and women farmers, the formation of farmers' organisations, the supply and marketing chains, and responsible private agribusiness investment.

In today's globalised world, agricultural policy is not exclusively about farming. We need to promote the multidimensional nature of agricultural policy – emphasising its role in encouraging the provision of public goods, its contribution to food security, economic growth, social cohesion, sustainability and geo-political stability.

Every region of the world needs to assume greater responsibility in this regard, and I am currently in the middle of a process to identify specific ways for the EU to do better.

The Commission is now conducting a comprehensive public consultation on the simplification and modernisation of the CAP. My intention is to publish a communication later this year which will spell out policy options to make the CAP truly fit for the 21st Century.

In conclusion, I firmly believe that Europe's 22 million farmers are the greatest resource we have in terms of ensuring the protection and improvement of the rural environment. They are our people on the ground – literally.

And I am also convinced that this is an attitude which is gaining support at a global level. With the right policy support, sustainable agricultural trade will be a pillar of progress and prosperity in this century. Thank you.