Trade deals with third countries must be fair and balanced, imported foodstuffs must comply with high European Union (EU) standards and unjustified foreign trade barriers and protectionism must be tackled, agriculture MEPs have warned.

Today (Wednesday, June 20), the EU's Agriculture Committee approved this message - which will be expressed to the International Trade Committee - by 33 votes in favour; two against; and with nine abstentions.

MEPs said they recognise the importance of trade agreements for the growth of the EU's agriculture sector.

However, they also stressed that it is "vital" that such measures are negotiated in a transparent manner.

'Sensitive farming sectors'

MEPs also insisted that the European Commission must conduct "systematic and cumulative" impact assessments.

The committee outlined that such assessments should take into account all ongoing trade talks - prior to launching new ones - and offer strategies to ensure that "no harm" will come to sensitive farming sectors.

The EU must ensure that more sensitive farming sectors are duly protected - if necessary by excluding them from the scope of negotiations.

"Agriculture must not be used as a bargaining chip to secure increased access to third country markets for industrial products and services," MEPS said.

'Fair - not speedy - deals'

MEPs criticised the commission’s intention to "speed-up" all trade talks, as they believe it could lead to major concessions in many sectors. Such moves could potentially endanger the viability of EU agricultural production, the committee cautioned.

These concerns follow recent irregularities concerning health, identification and traceability in Brazilian meat  control systems.

MEPs have called upon the commission to remove poultry, beef and veal from the scope of EU-Mercosur trade negotiations, until a "full compliance" of EU rules can be guaranteed.

"The commission's plan to conclude trade talks with Australia and New Zealand by March 2019 cannot be to the detriment of any agricultural sector," MEPS said.

Calls reiterating the exclusion of the most sensitive farm products from the scope of negotiations were also made.

The commission is being urged to analyse the impact of Brexit on the EU’s sheep and goat sectors before finalising negotiations.

"In trade negotiations, the EU shouldaim for nothing less than fair and balanced deals - no matter how long negotiations last," the committee said.

"EU agricultural and food products meet the highest food safety, animal welfare, environmental and consumer protection standards.

It is paramount that the commission should ensure all imported foodstuffs meet the same specifications.

'Fighting protectionism'

The commission has been urged to take a strong stand against unjustified US trade defence measures against World Trade Organisation (WTO)-compatible Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) mechanisms; and to defend EU farm policy.

The US decision to impose anti-dumping customs duties on Spanish olives is an attack on the EU farmers’ efforts to comply with international rules.

The committee added that the WTO must ensure the smooth flow of global trade at a time when protectionism is gaining ground.

The opinion of the Agriculture Committee will now be scrutinised by the INTA - which has the lead on the file - during its September 27 meeting.

It will then be examined by the parliament as a whole, during the plenary session in Strasbourg which will take place from October 22 to October 25.