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Remarks by Executive Vice-President Dombrovskis at the press conference on safeguarding food security and reinforcing the resilience of food systems

Met dank overgenomen van Europese Commissie (EC), gepubliceerd op woensdag 23 maart 2022.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Russia's war against Ukraine has affected the world in many different ways that we may not have imagined at first.

Along with surging energy prices, we have to think urgently about food: whether everyone can get it, and whether they can afford it.

Russia's unprovoked aggression has sparked a global commodity price boom.

Agricultural and seafood product markets are rocketing.

Wheat is a very good example. And when I say wheat, we are actually talking about bread to feed people.

Since the invasion, wheat futures prices have risen by 70%.

In Ukraine, a major wheat exporter, this year's harvest will be hit by warfare and by general turmoil.

This is a country known as the ‘breadbasket of Europe', home to possibly some of the most fertile soils in Europe.

The EU stands by Ukraine throughout this conflict and will continue to provide vital support to Ukraine and its people.

This also applies to food.

Now, more than ever, it is the time to show our solidarity.

This is why we have proposed an EU Emergency Support Programme for Ukraine - €330 million in grants - to help alleviate the suffering of Ukrainians by securing access to basic goods and services, which clearly also covers food.

Here, I would point out that Russia appears deliberately targeting and destroying Ukraine's food stocks and storage locations.

Russia's relentless aggression not only means more food shortages for suffering Ukrainians.

It also means a supply disruption that affects the whole world, particularly lower-income countries that have to pay more for their basic food imports.

From a geo-strategic point of view, the EU should contribute to covering the production gap to address the expected global shortage of wheat. The EU is not only a major net exporter, but the one with the highest yields globally.

But this is not only about wheat.

It is a similar story for maize, barley, sunflower oil and for vital farm inputs like fertiliser and animal feed.

This is the point of today's communication.

It is our response to the EU leaders' recent call at Versailles to:

  • tackle the issue of global food security;
  • address rising food prices in Europe;
  • and strengthen our resilience regarding certain farm imports.

On global food security, the EU will step up humanitarian assistance for low-income food-importing countries as well as for others that are affected by the conflict.

We will strongly resist export restrictions and bans on food, including at international fora like the World Trade Organization.

This crisis represents a severe threat for many countries, especially for wheat-importing countries in regions such as North Africa and the Middle East.

If limits were to be imposed on exports, then world prices would further increase. Panic buying and major food security problems could easily follow.

For global food security, we need well-functioning supply chains and logistics - not restrictions.

At the same time, the EU is working to ensure that food security is integrated in the efforts of the United Nations system so that bodies such as the Food and Agriculture Organization can act to prevent further deterioration and protect the most vulnerable.

Turning now to the EU:

Here, there is no question of our food supplies being under threat.

The EU is largely self-sufficient for key agricultural products.

Given the sharp price increases, this is much more about food affordability for vulnerable people.

However, our supply response is limited by the availability of fertile land in Europe.

So today, the Commission has adopted an implementing act that allows Member States to derogate from certain greening obligations and so enlarge the EU's farm production capacity.

This is an exceptional and temporary measure.

Janusz will give you more details, also on measures to stabilise EU agricultural markets and support producers.

The Commission also supports Member States in using possibilities to reduce the blending proportion of biofuels - because this would also lead to a reduction of EU agricultural land that is used for production of biofuel feedstock - and instead direct it towards food production.

Given the exceptional market situation, the Commission has proposed a €500 million support package to support EU farm producers affected by the war in Ukraine - allowing them to address market disturbance or trade restrictions.

it is worth reiterating the Council's agreement in December on reforming VAT rates. This allows Member States to reduce their VAT rates to 0% on certain goods and services that address basic needs - notably food.

Member States can also make a lump-sum transfer to households as a way to address food affordability. And they can use EU funds such as the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived to help provide food and basic assistance to vulnerable people.

There are other possibilities too, like the REACT-EU programme and the recently proposed Cohesion's Action for Refugees in Europe - or CARE - to provide emergency support for people fleeing Ukraine, including food, water and medical supplies.

The Commission has also adopted today temporary crisis state aid rules - or temporary crisis framework - to help support companies hard hit by the crisis and affected by high energy prices.

This temporary crisis framework also covers the agricultural sector.

Lastly, to look a little beyond the current crisis:

It again shows the need for resilience and diversified supply chains, particularly for products like fossil fuels, fertiliser and feed.

So we should diversify our food supplies more, in the same way as we are doing for energy. That also applies to our free trade agreements, which should embed the concept of food security.

Short-term emergency measures are important.

But they do not replace the importance of refocusing the agricultural food sector towards sustainability and resilience as a way to cope better with future crises.

Food sustainability is fundamental for food security. In Europe, and around the world too.

Thank you and I now pass the floor to Commissioner Wojciechowski.


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