In conversation with Janusz Wojciechowski, European Union’s Commissioner for Agriculture on his visit to SIAL India with 50+ European Business Delegates in the Food and Beverage sector, he discusses the insights of the European Agriculture’s mission in India’s F&B market, strategies to enhance trade relations, introducing European high-quality food to the Indian market, and challenges in the agriculture and food sectors.
Question- From being a member of the European Parliament to the European Commissioner for Agriculture, how has that impacted your current venture?
Answer- I served as a member of the European Parliament for 12 years, where I held the position of Vice Chairman of the Committee of Agriculture. My current role as the European Commissioner is a continuation of my experience in the European Parliament. Before joining the Commission, I was a member of the European Court of Auditors, the Audit Institution in the European Union, where I focussed on agricultural issues. My extensive background in agricultural policy is complemented by personal experience, as I was raised on a small family. This upbringing was pivotal in understanding the emotions of farmers. During my visits to countries within and outside the European Union, including a recent visit to a small farm in India, I focused on fostering dialogue with farmers.
Question- What distinctively stood out about the Indian agriculture sector that led you to explore this region?
Answer– I am particularly impressed by the success and great achievements of Indian agriculture. The dynamic growth of agricultural production in India from 2010 to 2020, a staggering 34% is unparalleled globally. This success, however, is attributed to the structure of very small farms, ranging from one to two hectares. It is noteworthy that farms of less than two hectares, managing only 12 percent of agricultural land worldwide, contribute 25 percent of food production, with India leading this effort.
India’s contribution to global food security is immense, considering the substantial increase in production from these small farms. Notably, the Indian agricultural landscape is characterized by a large number of small farms, a stark contrast to the more specialized and larger farms observed in other regions.
Comparatively, the European Union and India have nearly the same area of agricultural land, with the EU boasting 160 million hectares and India slightly more at 178.9 million hectares. Despite the differences in population size, both entities have achieved self-sufficiency in food production and are significant food exporters.
In a recent meeting with Professor Chang, we discussed the challenges faced by agricultural institutes. It was a fascinating discussion, shedding light on the difficulties encountered in implementing necessary changes within the institute. These insights contribute to our ongoing efforts to enhance agricultural practices and ensure food security globally.
We have discussed this government phenomenon, and the achievements of Ramesh Chandra. I recall his speech at the G20 conference in Hyderabad; it was not only about trade issues but also delved into the secrets behind the success of Indian agriculture.
Question- What is your approach towards increasing food production across regions?
In the European Union, we now have the Farm to Fork strategy. This strategy aims to reduce the distance from the farm to the fork, supporting the direct sale of agricultural products in local markets, and so on. In India, we can observe a similar trend, where the majority of farmers sell their products directly to the market. This exchange of experiences is very important.
Question- What do you plan on introducing to India with your More Than Food campaign and what factors led you to cater to the needs of the Indian F&B Market?
We are promoting the main objective of my mission, which is to highlight European food—high-quality food produced with the highest safety standards. This aspect may not be widely known in the world, and perhaps not all consumers in India are aware of the quality of the food we offer and the safety standards we adhere to.
Geographical indications are also crucial. It is a significant aspect of our cooperation with India, and we are negotiating an agreement about the protection of geographical indications (GI). Food production in Europe and India is not just a business; it’s a part of our national heritage. Many products have been produced for generations, and it is vital to protect the rights of farmers and producers for these regional and traditionally made products. This protection is crucial for promoting the uniqueness of these foods. I hope that we will achieve a beneficial agreement with India, providing profits for both India and Europe.
Question- Your level of involvement and leadership in the agriculture sector enables you to have a wealth of knowledge that not everyone has access to. What do you aim to introduce in the Indian F&B industry that will significantly impact the market?
Currently, trade relations are advantageous for India, as food exports from the European Union to India amounted to 1.4 billion Euros last year. This equates to one Euro per capita for the 1.4 billion consumers in India. In contrast, Indian exports to the EU exceeded this, reaching 3.7 billion Euros.
While we have no objections to importing goods from India, our goal is to export high-quality European products to the Indian market. However, there are perceived unnecessary barriers, such as tariff barriers and SPS measures, in my view. Sometimes, despite the European Union functioning as a single market, each product introduced must meet the same standards. This rigorous checking process for products from different European countries, like France, Belgium, or Spain, may not be necessary since they adhere to the same quality standards.
This aspect is not always recognised globally, but it is a crucial topic. The goal is to reduce barriers that are deemed unnecessary. Additionally, I’m aware of some requests from the Indian side to reduce certain trade barriers imposed by the European Union. We will engage in discussions to find solutions and strengthen and increase our trade relations.
Question- Looking forward, how do you plan on carrying this initiative in the future and expanding your network among the Indian stakeholders in the market?
We emphasize our commitment to producing high-quality food, and meeting the world’s highest safety standards, a crucial point often raised by our farmers. Demonstrating our quality standards is vital, especially in comparison to products from countries with fewer regulations.
Strengthening trade relations between Europe and India is mutually beneficial, rooted in a long tradition of past exchanges. The historical significance of Indian trade even influenced Columbus’s quest for a new route to India in the 15th century, indirectly leading to the discovery of America.
Currently, the European Union ranks 11th in imports but only 28th in exports to India. This vast market presents an opportunity for exploration. While not directly involved in FDA agreement negotiations, I hope my visit and business meetings will contribute to smoother negotiations, resulting in mutually beneficial solutions.
Despite the popularity of Indian restaurants in Europe, there’s untapped potential for European food in India. Many Indian consumers appreciate European cuisine, including Italian pizza, Belgian fries, and French dishes and wines. The Indian market offers ample room for improvement, especially in areas like dairy products and cheeses not currently produced in India.