Martha King, vice president of programs and projects with Farm Foundation, samples produce sold at marché d’Aligre, a street-level, fresh food market in Paris. (Photo by Timothy Eggert of FarmWeek)

Creating and marketing a high-value, top-quality good will be vital for Illinois farmers to increase the number of their products in the hands — and mouths — of European consumers.

That was a major takeaway from meetings between a 12-member Illinois Farm Bureau delegation and international agriculture officials, industry groups and European farmers during a recent Market Study Tour.

In France and its primary city, Paris, food and the framework around eating are ritualistic and idolized.

Parisians, for instance, place a high emphasis on the freshness and quality of their food, as well as the means — strictly organic or blocks away in an urban garden — through which it was grown. They’re also willing to pay more for it.

Those attitudes were on display in various restaurants and open-air, street-level food markets across the city, where producers sell their products directly to consumers.

They were also present at the Paris International Agricultural Show, where a slurry of food and drink vendors offered endless samples of meats, cheeses, breads and wines to patrons.

“They’re direct marketing to consumers, to the end users,” said Molly Rosentreter, Macoupin County Farm Bureau director. “They have specialized products ... and the marketing they use here really is a notch above what we use at home.”

The value of those products is protected under an EU food quality policy, called geographic indicators (GI), which establish intellectual property rights for specific products, whose qualities, ingredients or production methods are linked to a specific region.

By EU law, GI must be labeled on a packaged agricultural product or displayed when it is sold at a street market or grocery. There are more than 5,000 EU and non-EU GIs protected in member states.

EU law also dictates that GIs be recognized in trade agreements with other countries, like the United States.

A 2021 study from the European Commission found that although the GIs serve as an important marketing tool for the global ag market, there are serious issues with the scheme.

“Main limitations are the low consumer awareness and understanding of the schemes in some member states, the complex and long registration procedures and certain weaknesses in controls at the downstream stages of the value chain,” the report said.

Future trade with the EUGIs and other trade schemes could dictate the requirements of a future agricultural trade deal between the U.S. and the EU, said Mark Gebhards, IFB executive director of governmental affairs and commodities.

There is currently no dedicated free trade agreement between the two partners, despite the U.S. exporting about $12 billion in ag products to the EU in 2020 and importing $30.6 billion from the EU the same year.

Negotiations over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) launched in 2013 were dead by 2016 and formally closed in 2019.

Many groups the IFB delegation met with at the Paris International Agricultural Show voiced support for renewed talks around the TTIP, or a similar deal.

“We do not spend enough time talking between European and American growers,” said Franck Laborde, secretary general of the General Association of Corn Producers. “Maybe now is the time to think twice about that and start stronger relationships between the U.S. and the EU.”

Since the United Kingdom left the EU in 2020, agricultural trade policy has largely been in limbo, with government officials “struggling to re-align and rewrite EU policies into a domestic context,” Gebhards said.

Nonetheless, the delegation had some “great discussions” with U.S. Embassy officials in London, Gebhards said, adding a trade agreement between the U.S. and the UK is “back front and center.”

Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack recently announced USDA will sponsor an international trade mission to the UK, which in 2020 imported $2.7 billion in U.S. ag products. The U.S. in 2020 imported about $1.1 billion in UK ag products.

Vilsack’s announcement, and the IFB Market Study Tour, comes as the UK has amassed a collection of trade deals since leaving the EU. In the past 18 months it has signed more than 70 different trade agreements with other countries.

The UK government also entered into formal negotiations in 2021 to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, which the U.S. left under the Trump administration.

IFB Vice President Brian Duncan said he’s confident the meetings “forged close bonds” with officials and will hopefully lead to more trade opportunities for members.

“The U.S. is a producing nation with the ability to export,” Duncan said. “And Illinois Farm Bureau supports any policy that boosts trade and market opportunities in other countries.”

This story was distributed through a cooperative project between Illinois Farm Bureau and the Illinois Press Association. For more food and farming news, visit FarmWeekNow.com.

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