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Speech following the announcement of an Administrative Arrangement for an EU/US dialogue on agriculture, with Mr Thomas Vilsack, US Secretary for Agriculture

Speech following the announcement of an Administrative Arrangement for an EU/US dialogue on agriculture, with Mr Thomas Vilsack, US Secretary for Agriculture (03 November 2021).

"Check against delivery"

Secretary Vilsack, Honourable Members of the European Parliament, Ladies and Gentlemen.

Secretary Vilsack, thank you for your kind words.

Once again, I would like to extend a warm welcome to Brussels.

I am glad to say that we are getting to meet very often; it was only a few weeks ago that we met in Florence.

You must be getting a taste for our famous European food!

I hope that these are the first of many friendly and productive meetings that we share.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is a great pleasure to share this platform with Secretary Vilsack.

Over breakfast, we discussed the many things that agriculture in the United States and the European Union have in common, in terms of both our challenges and opportunities.

To some of you, it may come as a surprise that we found so much in common.

In the past weeks, some of the differences in our farming systems and policies have been amplified and exaggerated.

These differences often obscure what we have in common.

  • Maybe some Europeans in the audience do not realise that, in the United States, the average size of a beef suckler cow herd is around 50 cows, and half of all producers have less than 20 cows.
  • US farmers might be surprised to learn that a large proportion of EU crop production is concentrated on farms that are bigger than the US average.
  • The audience in Brussels will be familiar with discussions on depopulation and the lack of digital connectivity in rural areas. I understand that these are also pressing issues in the United States.

So as well as sharing similar characteristics, we also share similar challenges.

We both recognise, I believe, how the pandemic laid bare the vulnerability of our food systems.

It showed us how important it is to increase the resilience of the food chain, and to maintain food security against external shocks.

There is also no escaping the fact that we must put in place sustainable food systems, by transforming the way we produce, process, and consume food.

Against a backdrop of diminishing natural resources and declining biodiversity, a growing world population demands more and better quality food.

Add to this the accelerating challenge of climate change, which has come under the spotlight this week, more than ever. This challenge is threatening the very resources we need to secure our farming futures and food supply.

The European Union is firmly committed to meeting this challenge head on.

Since 2017, we have been leading the effort to achieve the targets of the Paris Climate Treaty and we have committed to becoming the first net zero continent by 2050.

As part of these efforts, the European Union has chosen to pursue the Farm to Fork strategy, which sets out plans and initiatives for the transition to a more sustainable food system.

Such a system must combine social, environmental, and economic elements:

  • It must ensure food security, preserving a safe supply of affordable food for citizens, while generating a fair economic return for farmers.
  • It must also help to mitigate climate change, reverse the loss of biodiversity, and safeguard natural resources.

Yes, these are big demands, and the transition to sustainability will be difficult.

However, we believe there is no alternative but to act now, and that this is the right strategy for the European Union.

As part of our strategy, we intend to work with others, to address the global challenges of this transition, and underline the opportunities it can bring to society and the farming community.

For instance, the European Union is playing a leadership role to strengthen the global interface between science and policy, for improved governance and evidence-based policymaking.

We will deliver innovative solutions for food systems that provide mutual benefits for nutrition, food quality, the climate, and communities.

For example, in the Farm to Fork Strategy, we will aim to reduce food waste by promoting digital technologies.

By using these technologies for precision agriculture, we can help our farmers to achieve higher productivity, while reducing their inputs, costs, and waste.

It is clear that research and innovation, and the uptake of digital and space technologies, will help to drive our farming future.

Working with many countries, our programmes are open to researchers and innovators from around the globe.

As I have said before, we share the same challenges, so we must also share our knowledge and solutions.  

And as we transition to greener food production under the Farm to Fork Strategy, we want to engage with our American friends, to share our progress, and our experiences. I believe that we can learn a great deal from each other.

For this, we need to exchange our experiences and information more fluently than we have done in the past.

For example, I know we both feel strongly about supporting the role of farmers in leading the transition to sustainability.

We are asking them to manage and store carbon in the soil, to reduce soil and water pollution, and to reverse ecosystem degradation, all while producing enough food to meet society's growing demands.

We are asking much of our farmers, so we must also ask much of ourselves:

  • What policies will bring higher environmental and climate benefits for all?
  • How do we take the huge economic value of sustainability in agriculture and the bioeconomy, and translate it into new green business models, that spur growth and jobs?

Public authorities and regulators must seek answers to these questions, for example, by setting up and sharing credible systems of good data and methods, and by mobilising public and private financing.

For this reason, I am glad that the United States and the European Union have reached an administrative arrangement for our services, to work together on the common issues that we face.

I wish our respective teams the best, as they work in a collaborative way to bring answers to these pressing issues.

Secretary Vilsack, Honourable Members, ladies and gentlemen, it is clear that changes are needed on a global scale.

As two of the largest agri-food producers, importers, and exporters in the world, the United States and the European Union are in a strong position to lead this change.

And as we look to strengthen our bonds in the future, perhaps we can look to the bonds that we share in our past.

These bonds are written in our landscape.
Secretary Vilsack, I am sure you know very well the rural towns of Iowa, with names like Swedesburg, Rome, and Germanville. I believe there is even a city of Waterloo!

In these towns and rural communities, I am sure you will find many farm families with common European surnames like Schmit, Johansson, Novak, or O'Brien. Maybe there are even some Wojciechowskis!  

From Europe, these families brought their dedication to the land, their skills for cultivation, and their hard work to nurture food from the soil.

These same qualities survive in the fields of Europe and the United States today.

So it is clear that, while we are separated by an ocean, we are connected in our land.

Secretary Vilsack, I look forward to deepening this connection over the coming years; for the good of our farmers, our food, our people, and our planet.

Thank you.

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