EU egg producers have called for fair trade to help ensure eggs and egg products which are produced in the EU to the highest environmental protection, animal welfare and food safety standards are not undercut by imports from countries with lower standards and production costs.
The call was made at an event hosted by Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson in the European Parliament in Brussels earlier this week. The event brought together MEPs, representatives from the EU egg sector plus officials and focused on the competitiveness of the EU egg sector.
Speaking afterwards Mr Nicholson said: “The EU’s egg producers must comply with legislation which means their eggs and egg products are produced to the highest standards this does however increase production costs, indeed analysis shows that more than 15% of production costs are directly related to EU legislation.
“For example conventional cages were prohibited in the EU from 1 January 2012. The sector invested some €4billiion in enriched cages and alternative housing to comply with this legislation which added 7% to production costs.
“This week’s event was designed to highlight and discuss the findings of a report on the competitiveness of the EU’s egg sector.”
The report considered the likely impact of lowering or removing tariffs on eggs from non EU countries. Countries such as Ukraine, USA, Argentina and India where the production costs for shell eggs can equate to 71% of the EU average cost of production - transportation costs and tariffs mean that they are not competitive at present. The costs of transporting egg powder are lower, again tariffs mean that imports are less competitive than EU produced whole egg powder.
Mr Nicholson continued: “The study shows how the reduction or removal of tariffs on eggs from third countries through on-going trade negotiations, plus changes in the exchange rate, would mean that imports of eggs and whole egg powder would become very competitive in price and would be able to undercut EU producers.
“The egg sector is an important part of Northern Ireland’s agri-food industry and it is important that local producers are not exposed to imports from countries where welfare and production standards are much lower. Consumers also demand high standards of welfare and traceability and eggs produced in the EU meet these demands.
“There are also opportunities for the EU egg sector, the on-going trade negotiations between the EU and Japan have the potential to open up a lucrative market for egg white for example. Egg consumption is also rising and the bakery and catering sectors in the USA are keen to see their market opened up to imports as a result of avian influenza which has reduced their laying hen flock and pushed up the price of eggs there.
“The sector understands the benefits of trade but given the huge differences in production standards and costs the industry is also calling on this trade to be fair. It is important for Northern Ireland’s egg producers and consumers that the sector is granted special import status in any future trade agreements to help ensure a level playing field for local eggs and whole egg powder.”