The European Union is indeed importing significant and growing quantities of meat into the EU. Poultry meat is by far the main import sector, with more than 800,000 tonnes imported every year. In bilateral free-trade negotiations, the EU has tried to include provisions for topics such as animal welfare in the negotiations. However, very often these provisions require collaboration between the parties meaning no binding rules.
There was a peak in 2016 with more than 900,000 tonnes that was imported. Imports are coming mainly from Brazil (45%), Thailand (30%) and Ukraine (15%) and concern high value cuts, primarily breast meat, that are preferred by EU consumers and that are produced at a much lower cost in these countries.
The second most imported meat in the EU is beef meat, with annual amount reaching around 340 000 tonnes. Here again, Brazil is the main supplier (40%), followed by Argentina (20%), Uruguay (15%) and USA-Australia (10%). Similarly to poultry, mainly high value cuts are imported into the EU, meaning that the competition from third countries has an even higher economic impact on EU producers. 180,000 tonnes is imported of sheep/goat meat every year, which is quite significant related to total EU production, as imports equal 20% of the EU production. Imports are mainly coming from New Zealand and Australia.
Imports for pork are relatively small as they amount 33,000 tonnes every year with Switzerland representing 60% of this amount.
When it comes to animal welfare, imports from third countries are only subject to their national legislation.
Welfare is not recognised in WTO rules making it impossible for countries from the EU, with high animal welfare standards to impose identical standards on the imported products. Therefore, for as long as animal welfare are not recognised at WTO level, there is no guarantee that meat or live animals imported from third countries have respected the exact same standards as the ones imposed on EU producers.
In many of the countries we are importing from the legislation is limited.
In bilateral free-trade negotiations, the EU has started to try to include animal welfare provisions in the negotiations. However, very often these provisions require collaboration between the parties meaning no binding rules. Nevertheless, in the case of poultry meat for example, the legislation on the protection of animals at the time of killing has to be implemented by the third country in an “equivalent way”. And in the egg sector the Commission is trying to embed the respect of the ban of conventional battery cage in trade agreements, which is in application in the EU since 2012. Against this background, EU farmers, cooperatives and their organisations are promoting high animal welfare standards at world level and try to work together with EU stakeholders to push trading partners to respect higher health and welfare standards.