Speaking at his office in Brussels, Mériaux said he has great expectations from the FTA negotiations, which are about to start, after the 27 EU countries last November authorised the European Commission to start negotiating with the Japanese government.
“Japan is already an important country for… EU pork and it could become interesting for the beef and EU veal,” explained Mériaux, noting that there is a huge demand for high-quality meat in Japan.
The EU is currently the fourth biggest supplier of pork to Japan. In 2011, the value of EU pork exports to Japan reached €766m, in an upward trend since 2009, when it was worth €593m.
In November, the Japanese government signed a decree to ease the import conditions for beef, which has long been blocked over public health concerns related to the outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in Europe. According to the UECBV boss, France and the Netherlands will be able to export beef to Japan starting this year. However, he added: “It is up to those two countries to negotiate the concrete conditions with Japan.”
Mériaux hopes the EU-Japan FTA will be shaped similarly to the EU-South Korea deal, which has been in place for over a year now and has helped EU pork exporters compete on equal footing with American and Chilean suppliers. The two countries both have both an FTA in place with South Korea.
But more has to be done for the EU’s FTA with South Korea to reach its full potential for the EU meat market, especially regarding sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures, Mériaux explained. “Today the EU beef industry is not allowed to export to South Korea”, he said. “So we expect a better dialogue between the EU and South Korea and for South Korea to soon reconsider the ban.” He added that he expects good news from South Korea this year on lifting its SPS ban. The US and Canada are already allowed to export beef products to South Korea and Mériaux wants to see European producers catching up to their North American peers on this key Asian market.
At the moment, Europeans are only allowed to export pork and poultry meat to South Korea. In 2011 the EU exported 193,274 tonnes of pork to the country worth €451m. “South Korea is already our fifth market in the pork sector, behind Russia, China, Hong Kong and Japan. And we expect more of course,” said Mériaux.
At home in Europe, he is following with concern the reform of the EU’s common agriculture policy (CAP). While a final decision for 2014-2020 EU spending has been postponed by the EU heads of states and governments, the CAP could be subjected to serious budget cuts, as proposals from the European Commission and the president of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, have signalled. “What could be at stake is security of supply. This is our main concern,” Mériaux said, pointing out that 50% of the revenues of cattle and sheep breeders in Europe come from CAP-related payments.
Even if global meat consumption is expected to double by 2050, Mériaux believes it will be nearly impossible for European livestock breeders to compete on a free market, due to the high costs of producing in the EU compared to producers such as those in the US and Brazil, for example. Animal welfare rules, food safety and environmental demands have also raised the costs of breeding livestock and producing meat in the EU in a way that is not comparable to other regions in the word, according to Mériaux. “The problem is to reduce the costs of production without really jeopardising our high standards. This is really challenging, but it is possible,” the UECBV secretary general said.
His organisation has made a mission to improve the image of meat in Europe in the next few years. And that is not because of the downward trend in meat consumption, especially of beef and sheep, which was a consequence of the crisis, but because the industry has been subjected to unfair criticism on animal welfare and environmental grounds over the past few years, said Mériaux. “We must dialogue with the EU citizens regarding the image of meat. We have a lot to say,” he added.
*Watch our video of this exclusive interview here