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Food & Ag Policy Briefing 7 June

07 July 2020

This article is from our policy coverage dated 06/07/20.

WTO delegations from the US and EU voiced their opposition to new COVID-related restrictions on trade in meat and other agricultural products last week.

Brussels and Washington both raised the issue at the World Trade Organization, circulating documents which are clearly targeted at China's recent clampdown on imports from areas where the disease is prevalent.

The EU submission does not name China directly but leaves no room for doubt over the focus of its criticism.

At the beginning of the week, environmental groups petitioned the USDA to issue temporary rules to prohibit the depopulation of farm animals backlogged during slaughterhouse closures in unlined burial sites and on-site incineration while the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

Filed by Earthjustice, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Center for Biological Diversity and other groups, the petition called for new environmental safeguards while producers are forced to depopulate animals in the wake of widescale food supply disruption when the virus spread through packinghouses.

According to the groups, some 10 million hens have already been killed and 10 million pigs could be killed by September.

A new report released last week from the European Parliament demanded legally binding legislation for businesses operating in the EU market to prevent deforestation in other parts of the world.

"Voluntary measures have failed," German S&D MEP Delara Burkhardt, who wrote the report, said. She was speaking at a meeting of the Parliament's Environment Committee (ENVI) on 2 June. "Simply sticking a label on a product to signal they are deforestation-free will not be enough."

France announced it would extend its ban on single-use plastics to teabags in a draft law notified to the European Commission.

The bill, setting out a new article (R. 544-33) of the French framework law, the Environmental Code, is now on standstill until September 28 to give the Commission and other EU member states the opportunity to raise any concerns about potential trade barriers.

The European Commission opened infringement proceedings last week against Slovakia over its controversial food retail law, which notably requires stores to boost domestic produce in promotional materials.

Under the March 2019 law aimed at combatting unfair trading practices, food retailers have to include at least 50% of Slovak products in printed or online promotional or marketing material.

Meanwhile, Germany's coffee tax law (Kaffeesteuergesetz) faced the prospect of a challenge in the European Court of Justice as an unfair trade barrier in the EU single market, unless Berlin lifts import restrictions applied under the legislation.

First introduced in 1953, the tax law, which generates an estimated €1 billion annually for German state coffers, applies a levy per kilogram of coffee sold that following its last revision in 2009 was €2.19 for roasted and €4.78 for soluble coffee.

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