Peter Mandelson, the newly-appointed EU trade commissioner, is considering launching a review of the EU's stringent food hygiene regulations in an attempt to tackle growing accusations that its policies are protectionist and denying developing nations a fair opportunity to compete, Tom Armitage reports.
In a report appearing in the Financial Times last week, Mandelson said he would be willing to reconsider the EU's rules, although stressed that a full-scale review would not be undertaken without the "full consultation" of his EU colleagues.
The EU has long been accused of exercising protectionist trade policies, with developing nations claiming that it has largely failed in its attempt to quash excessive trade and competition legislation as well as bring an end to biased direct subsidisation (the EU dairy industry alone receives an estimated €16 billion in annual subsidies).
According to Mandelson, the EU's so-called SPS regulations (sanitary and phytosanitary standards, the regulations which govern food safety levels within the EU) have attracted "a lot of complaints" from developing countries, including China and India, which claim that the measures are acting as non-tariff barriers to trade - denying them entry to the lucrative EU export region.
Peter Dawson, policy director for UK industry association, Dairy UK, said that he could "appreciate the Commissioner's priority is to maximise trade opportunities," but added that the number of developing countries who are currently available to export dairy products to the EU are "few and far between".
"The majority of UK dairy farmers have absolutely no problem with current EU hygiene legislation. In fact, many farmers welcome measures as they help protect both the industry and consumer," he added.
The EU's food and drink industry is worth an estimated €600 billion - with a further €145 billion stemming from added value. It is also the third-largest industrial employer in the EU, accounting for over 2.6 million employees.
Markos Kyprianou, the Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection in Brussels, said earlier this month that food safety, more specifically the "implementation and maintenance of hygiene rules and control systems", would be a main objective of his five-year mandate.
A spokesperson for the UK Representation of The European Commission told DairyReporter.com that "obviously the EU wishes to maintain its high hygiene standards, both for the food industry and for consumers and although no review is planned for the foreseeable future, we are currently looking into strategies which will collectively help developing countries improve their own food hygiene standards."
Meanwhile, the EU has today launched an extended service of its on-line Expanding Exports helpdesk - a service intended to provide developing nations with detailed information covering various import measures, for instance tariff quotas and anti-dumping measures.
Later in the year, the website will be expanded to include information on EU and Member States' specific technical and sanitary requirements, as well as covering financial matters such as internal taxation and excise duties applicable to each member state.
Mandelson commented: "This is another concrete measure to help developing countries export to the EU. The EU is committed to taking these kinds of practical steps, in a world where non-tariff barriers are really the main remaining barrier to our markets for the poorest countries."