Why do we talk about animal welfare in free-trade agreement with the European Union?
Why is animal welfare discussed in a trade context?
Animal welfare is not only part and parcel of what Australian livestock farmers do on a farm every day, it is also a requirement for all Australian producers to demonstrate that they comply with international animal welfare standards when they export animal products to trading partners such as the European Union (EU).
When animal welfare export requirements are poorly designed they can pose significant costs for farmers such as through inconsistent labelling laws, difficult authorisation and accreditation procedures, extra enforcement checks, or regulations not being relevant to the exporting country’s environmental conditions.
Therefore, there are significant incentives for both Australian and EU officials to cooperate on getting animal welfare standards right for the benefit of farmers, consumers and animals.
Animal welfare compliance is an example of a technical regulation under a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) which is subject to audits and enforcement checks by officials from respective trading nations.
Animal welfare checks include looking at animal husbandry practices, transportation, animal health, disease and traceability in the supply chain.
Australian and European regulatory frameworks show that both trading partners have a high regard for animal welfare, yet this mutual understanding does not always translate into identical outcomes. This is because farmers in Australia and the EU operate in very different environments, with Australia having a larger scale, extensive livestock production system.
What has the EU done in past FTAs?
The EU has pledged that no trade agreement will lead to lower levels of social or environmental protection than offered domestically. The EU has also stated that FTAs will never limit the ability of EU countries to achieve legitimate public policy objectives through trade protection.
For the EU, animal welfare is encompassed in the broader issue of social license, which means having the general approval of the community in regulatory frameworks. 94% of EU citizens believe it is important to protect the welfare of farmed animals, 82% believe protection should be better than it is at present and 62% “totally agree” that imported products should respect the same animal welfare standards as those in the EU.
Previous EU trade agreements with other regions, such as Canada and Mercosur, have stressed the importance of research sharing and demonstrating equivalence of outcomes regarding animal welfare. Demonstrating equivalence of outcomes means respecting the industry and government animal welfare systems in export countries so long as that country has proven ability to demonstrate best practice with standards set by the International Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).
What are the ramifications for Australia?
The upcoming FTA is a huge opportunity for Australian agriculture. The EU is the last major region in the world with which Australia does not have an FTA, despite the EU accounting for 12% of Australia’s total trade in terms of exports and imports.
The EU is also Australia’s only trading partner for which the value of agricultural imports exceeds exports, indicating the enormous scope for improvement. The EU has indicated that animal welfare will be part of the FTA negotiations, and it is important for Australian agriculture to send a positive message regarding animal welfare standards and regulatory checks to the EU.
It is illegal under the World Trade Organisation for a country to apply different sets of regulations for international producers compared to domestic producers unless there is a threat to public safety or public morals.
In the past, the EU has successfully used poor animal welfare standards in an exporting country as an example of contravening public morals, paving the way to restrict imports based on this discrepancy.
For Australia to get good market access gains through the FTA, it is crucial to highlight that Australian traceability and animal welfare programs are world leading, with Australian animal health and biosecurity systems being recognised by the OIE as having the highest competency level.
Frederick is a fourth-year economics student at the Australian National University. As part of his degree he undertook an internship at the NFF in the first half of 2018, which involved looking at the intersection between animal welfare and trade with the EU. Frederick received a High Distinction for his work and was nominated for the College of Business and Economics Intern of the Year Award.