EU proposes banning imports of soy and meat linked to deforestation

The European Commission proposed this Wednesday (17) to ban the import of agribusiness products considered strongly linked to deforestation and forest degradation, including some of the most exported commodities by Brazil, such as soy and beef.

The Commission proposal establishes auditing rules, by which exporters of products at risk of linking to problems environmental organizations must ensure that they are free from deforestation and legal. For this, foreign trade companies will be obliged, if the proposal is approved, to collect the geographic coordinates of the land where the goods they place on the market were produced.

The rule also covers the cutting of trees considered legal in the legislation of the country of origin of the products. According to the Commission, this is due to the fact that illegal deforestation has been overcome by the expansion of agricultural areas as the main cause of forest destruction.

The European Union also fears that, by doing a distinction between what is legal and what is illegal, produces a perverse incentive: to lead countries to change their legislation to broaden the definition of what is legal deforestation.

The text must conflict with the Brazilian Forest Code, considered one of the most advanced internationally, which stipulates mandatory reserve limits in each region.

In the Legal Amazon, properties located in forest areas can deforest 20% of the area; in the cerrado, 55%; and in fields, 55%.

“International trade needs to follow international agreements and respect national laws. The problem is that Brazil’s lack of credibility ends up opening loopholes for advances that could be protectionist”, says the former secretary of Production and Commerce at the Ministry of Agriculture Pedro de Camargo Neto.

Camargo Neto, who presided over Abipecs (association of the pork producing and exporting industry) and is a farmer and rancher, says that the large Brazilian exporters of meat and soy, among others, already track and certify what they sell in Europe.​

During the COP26, which ended last Saturday ( 20) in Glasgow, Muni Lourenço, chairman of the National Commission on the Environment of the CNA (National Confederation of Agriculture), stated that only 2% of producers registered by the Brazilian government violated the Forest Code.

The three major exports Brazilian meat producers —JBS, Marfrig and Minerva— presented their tracking programs in Glasgow, but the impact report that accompanies the bill points out that none of them track their indirect suppliers: there are 2.5 million cattle raisers in the country, the which makes the operation even more complex.

The Brazilian image is also affected by the delay in the validation of rural producer registries (CAR), leniency with land grabbers on public lands, deficient environmental inspection by part of the Union and some states and the protection of conservation units and indigenous reserves, says Camargo Neto.

For lawyer Vera Kanas, partner in the areas of international trade and agribusiness at the TozziniFreire office, when excluding the European Union’s requirement that deforestation be illegal makes the restrictive measure on trade easier to apply.

“If it were to restrict illegal deforestation, someone would have to define what is “illegal”. And what to do, for example, with respect to cocoa harvested in an area over which there is legal dispute, in Brazil, related to the legality of deforestation?”, exemplifies.

According to Vera Kanas, trade measures that discriminate countries have greater potential for violating WTO (World Trade Organization) rules. On the other hand, criteria in terms of products or situations can be adopted “as long as they are objective, flexible and proportional to the intended environmental objectives”.

Pantanal, coffee and cocoa

The recently presented project talks about forests and excludes flooded areas, such as the Brazilian Pantanal, but the Commission claims that the definition of what will be considered deforestation will be enough to protect two-thirds of what remains of native vegetation in the country’s cerrado.

In addition to soy and meat, the proposal refers to palm oil, wood , cocoa and coffee, and by-products such as furniture and leather. The list may be expanded in the future to include, by For example, rubber, according to the Commissioner responsible for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, Virginijus Sinkevicius.

The text still needs to be approved by the European Parliament and the European Council (which brings together the leaders of the

members), but the tendency is for it to be well received.

The European Parliament already indicated that the project was a priority and could press for tougher rules. In the case of the member states, the proposal must be pushed forward by the French president, Emmanuel Macron, who assumes the rotating presidency of the EU Council in January.

Upon approval, companies and member states will have a year to create the necessary structures to implement it. Regardless of this deadline, the date from which deforestation will be counted is 31 December 420: that is, foreign trade companies will have to prove that commodities and products are not linked to deforested or degraded land from the beginning of this year.

country risk

The Commission states that there will be no ban on any country or commodity. “Sustainable ​​producers will continue to be able to sell their products to the EU.” ​

Countries or regions will be classified as low, standard or high risk of producing commodities or products related to deforestation or in disagreement with the legislation of the producing country, which will increase control.

The European Parliament had asked the Commission to include in the conditions leading to the import ban the respect for human rights and indigenous lands. According to the Commission, the fact that products must comply with national laws must partially fulfill this role.

According to the justification of the project, the expansion of agricultural land destined to produce commodities that European Union imports are today the main driver of deforestation and forest degradation.

According to the FAO (United Nations Food and Agriculture Agency), 420 millions of hectares of forest, an area larger than the European Union, were cleared between 178 and 1990.

When discounting the area of ​​reforestation or forest regeneration, the loss was 178 million hectares, or three times the surface of France.

“The EU is partly responsible for this problem, and wants to respond to the strong call of European citizens to lead the way in solving it,” the Commission said. In public consultation, the proposal was approved by 1.2 million people.

The Executive Vice President of the European Green Deal, Frans Timmermans, said that the new rules address a concern of Europeans for promoting “sustainable consumption”.

The protection of the environment and the climate crisis is considered one of the most important issues by Europeans, according to the latest Eurobarometer survey, released in the semester past.

The proposal provides that the fight against deforestation, with fines for companies that disrespect the ban, will be accompanied by incentives to producers to preserve intact forests.

Deforestation is the main source of greenhouse gas emissions in Brazil (which cause global warming): it accounts for 31% of the problem.

The agricultural sector tends to argue that more than 90% of forest destruction is caused by illegal activities , but the EU decision to incl. Using any deforestation in your new rules can be a complicating factor.

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Understand the regulation

The proposal The Commission establishes rules of “due diligence” (audit), by which exporters of products at risk of being linked to deforestation and forest degradation must ensure that they are free from deforestation and legal (in accordance with the laws of the country of origin) are allowed on the EU market.

Foreign trade companies will be obliged to collect the geographic coordinates of the land where the goods they place on the market were produced.

This strict traceability aims to ensure that the inspection of each EU country is able to control that only products free from deforestation enter the common European market.

The list of guarantees and the strictness of inspection will vary according to the risk of the country or region of origin.

Companies will have to submit a declaration to a European information system confirming that they exercised with success. inspection/audit and that the products they place on the market comply with EU rules.

The declaration will also provide essential information for monitoring, that is, the geographic coordinates of the farm or plantation where the commodities were cultivated.

Failure to comply with either of the two requirements will result in a ban on placing these products on the EU market.

In addition to the proposal for deforestation, the Commission presented rules for the transport of waste and for land use in the EU.

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