Is the EU ready to protect its food supply chains?


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The EU’s inner market commissioner Thierry Breton conducted a tour of Japan and South Korea final week, in a bid to strike up partnerships for the event of a European microchips and semiconductor business. The visits come in the wake of the announcement of the European Chips Act final month, because the bloc makes an attempt to wean itself off dependence on Chinese products for its essential infrastructure. Breton’s move is lengthy overdue, provided that that the EU has uncared for its provide chain safety for years. Based mostly on 2019 figures, the EU was “strategically depending on China for 659 of the over 5,600 product categories outlined by the United Nation’s Comtrade database”, starting from gadgets as mundane as cell phones to high-tech products.

Present international bottlenecks and supply shortages for a mess of products in the wake of the Covid-19 lockdowns are driving house how long-lasting the knock-on effects of disruptions in China could be – and expose how this over-reliance on Beijing might be exploited by the Chinese authorities for political functions as nicely. Breton’s purchasing tour for a semiconductor alliance testifies to the rising awareness in Brussels about this vulnerability and it is to be recommended. At the similar time, nevertheless, Brussels would do nicely to look past the difficulty of its over-reliance in technical sectors to adopt a more holistic strategy that also keeps an eye fixed on a problem that European policymakers contemplate obsolete: meals safety.

Corn – a microcosm of Chinese language encroachment 

A take a look at the EU’s insurance policies referring to meals safety is sobering: meals security is handled as a query of food quality, designed to make sure that food consumed in the EU is suitable for eating. What isn't addressed is the rather more elementary activity of making certain the supply of meals and feed crops required for agriculture and farming. This was exemplified by a 2020 statement from Surroundings Commissioner Virginijus Sinkeviciusthat that “Meals safety is not a serious concern for the European Union”. 

With such coverage myopia it's no shock that Brussels routinely overlooks the very fact the EU is very weak to Chinese language incursion into its primary supply of sure crops, by means of its monopolization of Ukrainian corn. Exports to China have ballooned in recent times and, alongside potential land grabs in Europe’s so-called “breadbasket”, threaten to trigger a food crisis in the EU instigated by dropping certainly one of its most essential sources of crops.

The Chinese stranglehold on Ukrainian corn is a stark example of how Europe is letting certainly one of its largest producers of staple grains slip from its grasp. During the last nine years, Ukrainian corn exports to China have risen exponentially: from the first shipment in 2012, buying and selling volumes rose sharply to make the Japanese European nation Beijing’s largest provider by 2015, when 90% of its imports got here from Kyiv.  The explanations for this variation in circumstances are twofold. On the one hand, the Sino-American trade warfare has seen the US drastically fall away as a provider to the Individuals’s Republic of China. In 2011/12, it comprised virtually 100% of Chinese corn imports, but that determine had plummeted to only 10% by 2017/18. 

Meanwhile, a 10% drop-off in Chinese yields has precipitated vital home shortfall. Although 10% might not sound like an enormous quantity, China is the second-largest producer of corn on the earth (behind the US), which signifies that it should now fill a deficiency of 30 million metric tons (MMT). For context, it has not imported greater than 7MMT yearly in the last three many years. To unravel the problem, it's presently importing so much corn that its ports can’t handle the inflow of tankers, which in some instances are pressured to attend weeks earlier than docking.

China’s surfeit is Europe’s shortage

China’s all-out assault on Ukrainian corn comes on the EU’s expense – and it predates the trade struggle with America by a long way. As far back as 2013, there were reports that a Ukrainian agency had agreed to lease 5% of the nation’s landmass (or 9% of its arable land) to a Chinese firm so as to farm it for as much as 30 years. As a part of the deal, China would ship seeds, equipment, a fertilizer plant and a crop protection plant to Ukraine to assist in the cultivation of the crops, then buy back the yields produced from the association.

Although it must be famous that the Ukrainian company denied the studies at the time, the steep upturn in agricultural trading volumes between the two nations in the intervening years can't be ignored. What’s extra, the EU has far stricter directives and laws in place surrounding using genetically-modified (GM) crops than Ukraine, which signifies that just one GM plant occasion (MON810) is permitted for use within the bloc – and even that is banned in many member states. Nevertheless, with the requirements for ecologically sustainable agriculture or agricultural imports set to bear a tightening within the close to future, the attractiveness of the European market to Ukrainian exports will diminish even additional.

Meals crisis on the horizon?

All this provides to a probably good storm for the EU’s provide of food for its 447 million individuals. There’s no denying that the newly announced European Chips Act and the makes an attempt at forming international partnerships are a step in the best course in the direction of shoring up its access to the semiconductors, and the truth that some 20% of the bloc’s €750 billion Covid-19 restoration fund is being diverted in the direction of digital tasks can also be constructive.

Nevertheless, these in Brussels have to be careful to not take their eye off the agricultural ball while pursuing different avenues of analysis, improvement and manufacturing functionality. Attempts to avoid a semiconductor provide crisis are definitely smart, but they need to not come at the price of instigating an identical predicament almost about the EU’s food provide. As such, the bloc must remain aware of Chinese language pursuits making inroads alongside its periphery, as well as keep cognizant of Ukraine’s importance to Europe’s general well-being.