Indeed, the European Union and Canada are privileged partners. We have a long history in information exchange but also in trade. The EU as such, with a market of 500 million consumers, is a significant market for Canada.
The EU is the world's largest importer of agriculture and agrifood products. In 2016 we imported products worth 163 billion euros, 16% of the world's total agriculture and agrifood imports.
This provides reasonable opportunities for Canada. We are Canada's fourth-largest export market for agriculture and agrifood, with opportunities for further growth for your farming industries and your agriculture sectors. There is already important trade ongoing between the two parties. In 2016 Canada was our ninth top destination for agrifood. You are the 16th exporter/supplier of food to the EU, and there was already important trade ongoing before CETA entered into force.
We are both veterinarians. We are working in the SPS area, the sanitary and phytosanitary area, and we have as a basis there the WTO SPS agreement, which indeed forms the basis for our requirements. It applies to us in the EU, but also to our colleagues in Canada. This agreement has been in force since 1995. CETA again affirmed the obligations and the rights under the SPS agreement.
We already have had really good historical co-operation. There has been a veterinary agreement between Canada and the EU since 1999. That has been beneficial for both sides.
There are quite a number of areas in the SPS field for which we have recognized equivalence. This means that both sides' requirements allow for the same level of SPS protection, and the production of food should in that case be in accordance and compliance with the exporting country. If your industries export products to the EU in areas for which we have recognized equivalence, they only have to comply with Canadian rules and not the EU rules, because they provide the same level of protection. This is really beneficial for our industries. This concerns meats, but also bovine semen and fishery products.
Also, under the vet agreement, we apply a recognition of each other's regionalization decisions in times of disease outbreaks. In times of such outbreaks, we design certain areas for which restrictive measures apply. By recognizing these measures, we allow the continuation of trade from the free areas, which is again extremely beneficial for industries.
Under CETA we will be further building on those agreements and achievements, but now, with CETA, we have also included plant elements, phytosanitary elements, and also other food aspects. This is excellent timing, because the first meeting of the joint management committee on SPS will take place next week. We will be with you in Ottawa next week, where the meeting will be hosted by our counterpart, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
I hope I have some minutes left to give you a very short introduction to this food safety system. We had a major overhaul of our regulations early this century after significant food crises hit the EU in the 1990s, notably on BSE and dioxin. At that time, the EU adopted the “General Food Law”, by regulation 178/2022. That sets a number of basic principles that are reflected in all the food regulations established since the general food law.
I was really pleased to hear last year in Geneva that when Canada presented its “safe food for Canadians” regulations they had also been making use of the principles of our general food law, so we are helpful for both sides.
After these food crises in the 1990s, we were facing EU consumers who had lost confidence in the safety of EU food, but also in the industries producing this food and in the public authorities overseeing the food production. There was really a loss of trust among our consumers. With the general food law we set some basic principles, including the following ones.
We apply an integrated approach from farm to fork, from stable to table, animal origin or not, and we include all food, including animal feed. It means that food products have to be controlled and have to be safe throughout the production process. We do not believe in cleaning up the final product when it gets contaminated during the production process. It should be safe and controlled throughout the food production process at all stages.
Another important element is that food business operators are primarily responsible for the safety of their food. Food business operators must have a dedicated control system in place. We call them hazard plans. They need to know where contaminations may occur, and they have to control these. Further, they have to apply full traceability. They must have a system in place that makes it possible to follow food products throughout the production chain, backwards and forwards. If they are confronted with a contamination, they have to know where they got their raw products from, but they also have to inform their customers that there might be a problem with the products they have received. That is full traceability.
Another very important element is that SPS measures in the EU—measures in the sanitary and phytosanitary area—are fully science-based. To that end, we established the independent European Food Safety Authority back in 2002. EFSA produces risk assessments by making use of scientists all over the world and all the relevant scientific information that is available, and it conducts this work in full transparency. Any opinion is published, and it's known which scientists have contributed to the opinion and also which information has been used to be able to issue that opinion.
Further, risk management, the taking and enforcing of measures, lies with the European Commission together with the European Parliament and the authorities of the 28 member states. They are politically responsible and accountable.
Also, we've have recognized the precautionary principle, already established by the Montreal protocol at that time and by others, in order to prevent risks to the safety of consumers in case scientific evidence is lacking.
As well, a very important element also countries outside the EU is that products exported outside the EU at least have to meet the requirements applicable in the EU; they may not be of a lower standard. Every product produced in the EU and exported has to at least meet the requirements applicable in the EU.
Another huge achievement in the EU with our 28 countries is that we have one single open market, which allows free trade of goods, people, and services within but also between the 28 member states. All agriculture products are produced and controlled in accordance with harmonized rules set at the EU level, and the same standards apply in every EU member state. Also, national authorities are performing their controls in compliance with EU-established control rules. When a product leaves the member state and arrives at another member state, it's not again controlled; it is already meeting the EU requirements, and member states trust each other.
I have some words about the legislative process. I think it's particularly important and relevant for you.
The EU legislative process is based on two principal treaties, those being the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, as amended most recently by the Lisbon treaty.
These three treaties are binding agreements between member states and determine that secondary sources of law such as the general food law, but also the newly established official controls regulation as well as the newly established animal and plant health law, are directly applicable and enforceable in all member states, and that further transposition into national law is not a requirement. If we establish EU regulations in Brussels at the EU level, they are directly applicable in every single member state.
Our legislative procedures lay the initiative for new legislation or amendments to existing rules with the commission. Only the European Commission has the right of initiative. The adoption of legislation, however, takes place in coordination with the European Parliament and the Council of the EU, in which the ministers of the member states come together.
As a next step, we then have delegated and implementing acts that amend, supplement, or implement secondary legislation, which the commission can take themselves in cases of non-essential rules or after endorsement by the member states by voting via comitology procedure: for instance, in the case of the authorization of GMOs, but also if we would be allowing pathogen reduction treatments.
With respect to trade of agriculture products between the EU and Canada and the SPS measures that apply to these, it's good to emphasize that also with CETA both sides maintain their standard-setting rights. CETA is not forcing us to lower our food safety standards. That obviously applies to both sides of the ocean.
However, the information exchange that takes place under CETA—the regular meetings of experts and scientists and our future co-operation in international fora like the OIE and Codex Alimentarius—should make the agreement, CETA, an additional tool to overcome non-tariff measures there where possible.
Our system of one internal market also means that the EU applies one single set of import rules. All import requirements are set at the EU level, which means that any Canadian product that meets these rules undergoes only one import check and then may be freely traded throughout the 28 member states, so the internal market is also a major advantage for our trading partners and for your industries.
For the EU, the implementation of CETA is the opportune moment to apply a reciprocal system via vice versa, meaning that EU products that meet Canadian requirements should also be allowed into the Canadian market regardless of where they are produced. We are requesting Canada to refrain from authorizations at the member state level. Under CETA, it should no longer be acceptable that some parts of the EU would remain excluded from the advantages and benefits the agreement provides and delivers. A political agreement to this end was made some years ago with respect to meat and CETA articles foresee this in its imminent application, and also for phytosanitary products. Therefore, the EU has high expectations from CETA, and we look forward to our first meeting next week.
I hope this short presentation will gave you a bit of an overview into the EU food safety system and the way it is applied and controlled throughout 28 member states to the benefit of not only our own consumers but also the many consumers outside the EU, including those in Canada. Again, I cannot stress enough the excellent relations we already have with Canada in the SPS area with our long shared history and the eagerness with which we look forward to our upcoming work. On our side, we think that our corporations should be an example for other countries, too, and a proof of how mutual trust and co-operation may benefit both sides' consumers and industries.
Again, thank you very much for the attention. We are happy to try to address questions you may have.