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EU doubles down on nature with WTO pesticide ban

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The EU has set the cat amongst the pigeons at the World Trade Organisation (WTO), with notification that it intends to effectively ban the import of crops into Europe that have been grown with two common neonicotinoid insecticides.

The EU has proposed revisions to the Maximum Residue Limits (MRLs) for clothianidin and thiamethoxam, effectively to zero. What makes the proposal stand out is that it is the first time that any WTO member has set MRLs based on global environmental impact rather than agricultural practice.

EU builds focus on biodiversity issues

This follows the 2021 announcement that the EU would be looking for greater coherence between agricultural products produced within the EU and those that were imported. In a statement the European Union said: “In order to tackle sustainable development issues, especially climate change and biodiversity loss, which are issues of global concern, and to match Citizens’ expectations for higher quality and more sustainable foods the European Union has continually raised these standards for many years.”

An NGO devoted to the conservation of invertebrates, Buglife, described the adjustment as momentous, describing the proposal as a ‘hand grenade’ and a potential revolution for the impacts of global trade on biodiversity.  By setting the residue levels to zero the EU is effectively banning the use of these two dangerous insecticides by anyone wanting to export crops to the EU.

EU to ban imported food with pesticide residues

In its communication to the World Trade Organisation the EU justified their action saying “Given the global nature of pollinator decline, there is a need to ensure that also commodities imported into the European Union do not contain residues resulting from good agricultural practices based on outdoor uses of clothianidin and/or thiamethoxam, in order to avoid the transfer of adverse effects on bees from food production in the European Union to production of food in other parts of the world.”

According to Buglife, this is the first time that the global biodiversity crisis has been used to justify general trade restrictions.  If it is allowed to stand it will set a new principle and should open the door for countries to take sweeping actions to ensure that their trade does not result in the exportation of environmental harm to other parts of the planet.

Trade could provide a new avenue for climate action

Matt Shardlow, Buglife chief executive officer said: “This action is a brave and potentially revolutionary step.  Current international trade protocols are inadequate for addressing 21st century challenges such as climate change and biodiversity loss, but this measure could change the game and put the protection of global biodiversity on every trade negotiation agenda.”

It is part of a wider approach on biodiversity, as the European Commission has said it wants to halve the use of pesticides by 2030 as part of an overall strategy to restore biodiversity across the EU.

EU adopts proposals for nature restoration law

The Nature Restoration Law, if passed, will be the first comprehensive law of its kind.  It is a key element of the EU Biodiversity Strategy which calls for binding targets to restore degraded ecosystems, those with the most potential to capture and store carbon and to prevent and reduce the impact of natural disasters. More than 80% of Europe’s habitats are defined as being in poor condition today.

The proposal combines an overarching restoration objective for the long-term recovery of nature in the EU’s land and sea areas with binding restoration targets for specific habitats and species. These measures should cover at least 20% of the EU’s land and sea areas by 2030, and ultimately all ecosystems in need of restoration by 2050.

Under the proposed law, legally binding targets for nature restoration across different ecosystems would apply to all 27 EU Member States, complementing existing laws. It builds on  existing legislation, but covers all ecosystems rather than being limited to the Habitats Directive and Natura 2000 protected areas. The goal is to put all natural and semi-natural ecosystems on the path to recovery by 2030.

If passed, the law will benefit from substantial EU investment. Under the current Multiannual Financial Framework, around €100 billion will be available for biodiversity spending, including restoration. These legislative proposals follow the Biodiversity and Farm to Fork Strategies, and will help ensure the resilience and security of food supply in the European Union and across the world, according to a statement from the Commission.

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