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EU exports fly, despite bird flu

South Africa must be one of the few countries imposing strict bird flu bans on EU producers, because bird flu outbreaks from 2016, and again from 2020, seem to have made little difference to the EU export drive.

In the past two years, as avian influenza swept across Europe, poultry exports from European Union countries continued their steady climb.

As this bulletin noted in Vol 45 in June, that drive has targeted African countries in particular this year. That, however, is only part of a much bigger pattern. EU poultry production and exports have just kept on growing throughout the bird flu years.

The EU’s agricultural outlook, and the accompanying medium term outlook tables, show that EU poultry exports rose from 1.37 million tonnes (mt) in 2005 to 2.2 mt in 2016, the year of widespread bird flu outbreaks. 

And they have continued rising – 2.24 mt in 2017, 2.32 mt in 2018 and 2.48 mt in 2019. Then there was a slight drop to 2.33mt in 2020, another year of widespread outbreaks and the start of Covid-related disruptions, but the 2020 total was still higher than every previous year except 2019.

The problem is that it’s up to recipient countries to apply these bans. South Africa does so – at the moment only Spain is licensed to export poultry to this country – but others do not. The result is not a decline in EU exports, merely a switch to target other countries where regulators seem less wide awake to the risks of importing poultry from countries where bird flu is rife.

No EU authority, nor any EU country, steps in to reduce the risk to other countries, or at least alert them to the dangers. Instead, under some Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) with African and Caribbean countries, the EU has negotiated the phasing out of tariffs on poultry meat imports. Under all EPAs the EU restricts the use by these countries of non-tariff trade measures (eg tariff rate quotas) to limit imports from the EU.

The logical implication is that there will be increased EU access, with container loads of frozen EU chicken pouring into African and Caribbean markets. Can the EU provide assurances that these shipments do not include chicken from countries affected by bird flu, and particularly not from poultry producers where outbreaks have been noted?