Introducing the Trade and Animal Welfare Project
Although trade has a massive impact on our everyday lives in this increasingly globalised world, the impact of trade upon animal welfare has not been well understood. Trade and animal welfare are two disparate worlds of policy and regulation. However, there is a growing proportion of animal-derived products consumed in Europe that originate from third countries. In the case of imports, the European Union cannot dictate standards of animal welfare. Eurogroup for Animals has recognised that it is thus vital for the animal welfare movement to keep itself abreast of developments in international trade and to actively seek to influence them.
The Trade & Animal Welfare Project was founded in late 2015 with a mission to firmly establish trade and animal welfare as a topic for legislation and conversation amongst European Union officials and amongst civil society at large. Now, almost two years later, the Project has made waves in Europe and the inter-linkages between trade and animal welfare are becoming more commonly understood and debated. The Project is also aimed at influencing the content of European bilateral trade agreements so that they effectively account for animal welfare. This can be through protecting European animal welfare standards, through influencing and improving animal welfare standards in our trading partner countries, and through controlling trade on the basis of levels of animal welfare protection in production of certain products.
How does Trade impact Animal Welfare?
Trade can be restricted by measures such as import tariffs, labeling requirements, or outright bans on import or export. Trade restrictions can be imposed for a number of reasons such as to protect domestic industry from foreign competition, or to ensure effective animal welfare protection.
Trade liberalisation is one of the most common ways in which states cooperate. The World Trade Organisation (WTO) exists largely to remove barriers to trade between its 164 members. The WTO requires that every tariff reduction or trade liberalisation effort that the EU enacts must be offered to all partners equally, with a few exceptions. There is an exception where more market access can be provided to least developed nations. There is also an exception where more market access can be provided if a WTO member seeks to pursue a free trade agreement with another WTO member in which barriers to trade would be removed on substantially all products. It is on this basis that the EU, as a member of the WTO, pursues various bilateral trade agreements with other countries.
Trade liberalisation has a massive impact on animal welfare, particularly because of the requirement to liberalise trade in ‘substantially all products’ when negotiating bilateral deals. This means that agricultural products will virtually always be included in such deals. Despite problems of enforcement and implementation of regulations, the European Union is generally thought to be a global leader in animal welfare. Thus, most imports will not meet animal welfare standards that are as high as those applicable in Europe. This is especially the case when one considers that the EU is currently negotiating free trade agreements with Mexico and the MERCOSUR bloc (which includes Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay) where animal welfare standards are poor.
There are three aspects to the negative impact of trade on animal welfare:
Providing more market access to poor welfare products means that more animals will suffer as production will continue and, most likely, increase to meet the demand from Europe.
Imports of low welfare products will negatively impact the competitiveness of European producers who must comply with high animal welfare standards. This will create a chilling effect on animal welfare legislation because farming lobbies will not want further costly regulation of their production. At the most extreme, this may even put existing standards at risk or, at least, their effective enforcement.
The lack of effective labeling of animal welfare products ensures that this negative cycle will continue. If consumers do not know what standards animals are reared in, they are more likely to purchase cheap, low welfare products, thus ensuring a market for low welfare imports.
What can be done
The Trade & Animal Welfare Project argues that the inclusion of three sets of provisions in free trade agreements will help to guard against the risks and take advantage of the opportunities trade liberalisation poses to animal welfare.
Conditional liberalisation. This requirement would permit imports into the EU only if the products meet standards of animal welfare equivalent to those applicable in Europe. This is in line with the most recent Eurobarometer study on animal welfare which showed that over 90% of Europeans want such a requirement.
Right to regulate. This safeguards the right of the EU to set its own animal welfare standards and would clarify that trade should not result in a downward spiral or chilling effect of animal welfare regulation.
Cooperation and technical assistance. This is the primary means through which the EU can assist third countries to improve their animal welfare standards.
The Trade & Animal Welfare Project also argues for the effective use of trade agreements to tackle wildlife trafficking and conservation as well as to ensure the protection of animals in research.
We’ve started this blog so that we can engage with and inform civil society at large on a regular basis. Keep coming back for updates on all aspects of the trade and animal welfare interface. We’re always happy for you to get in touch with us if you want more information. Make sure to follow us on Twitter for bite-size updates and reactions.
(This article was written by Iyan Offor and was originally published in the Eurogroup for Animals' trade blog)