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UK Paves The Way for A Greener and Carbon-Free Future

The UK is working to create a policy for building a more sustainable future for itself through the New Green Industrial Revolution, aiming to attain net-zero emissions in the UK by 2050. As the country separated itself from the EU through Brexit, it is also setting its own environmental goals and in that, its own version of the EU’s 2019 Green Deal (we wrote about it in The EU Green Deal – Good on Paper but Is That Enough? in March 2020). With highly ambitious targets, the proposed investments are worth GBP12 billion, creating 250,000 jobs in the process. While this seems like a promising funds allocation, the plan’s success will actually depend on significant investments in next-generation technologies, which have currently not been proven commercially. Moreover, a lot will depend on an equal involvement from the private sector that might be more cautious with investments than the public sector.

The UK is in a bid to position itself at the forefront of global markets for green energy and clean technologies. To achieve this, it proposed a 10-point Green Industrial Revolution in November 2020, which aims to mobilize GBP12 billion funds and create 250,000 jobs in the UK. Through this plan, the UK aims to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. The key areas covered under the plan include offshore wind, hydrogen, nuclear, electric vehicles, public transport, jet zero and greener maritime, homes and public buildings, carbon capture, nature, and innovation and finance.

UK Paves The Way for A Greener and Carbon-Free Future

Offshore wind

The new Green Industrial Revolution outlines the UK government’s commitment to put offshore wind energy at the forefront of the country’s electricity needs. It has increased the offshore wind targets from previous 30GW to 40GW by 2030, aiming to produce enough energy to power all homes in the UK by 2030.

In addition to this, the government plans investments of about GBP160 million to upgrade ports and infrastructure in localities that will accommodate future offshore wind projects (e.g. Teesside, Humber, Scotland, and Wales).

This investment in developing offshore wind energy is expected to support about 60,000 direct and indirect jobs by 2030 in construction and maintenance of sites, ports, factories, etc.

While the government’s plan is great on paper, meeting the 40GW target will require 4GW of offshore wind projects to be commissioned every year between 2025 and 2030, which is extremely ambitious and challenging. Moreover, just developing offshore wind projects will not be enough until works are also done to update the electricity grid. Further, the target 40GW generation is calculated based on current electricity demand by households, which in reality is bound to increase as a shift towards electric vehicles is being encouraged.

Hydrogen

With the help of industry partners, the UK government plans to develop 5GW of low carbon hydrogen production capacity by 2030 for industries, transport, and residences. The government is expected to publish a dedicated Hydrogen Strategy in 2021, to position the UK as a front runner in production and use of clean hydrogen. It plans to develop 1GW (of the planned 5GW) hydrogen production capacity by 2025.

A central part of the UK’s Hydrogen Strategy is expected to have hydrogen potentially replace natural gas for the purpose of heating. The government is undertaking hydrogen heating trials, commencing with building a ‘Hydrogen Neighborhood’ and potentially developing a plan for the first town to be heated completely using hydrogen by 2030.

In addition to this, works with industry partners are under way to develop ‘hydrogen-ready’ appliances in 2021, such that new gas boilers can be readily converted to hydrogen if any future conversion of the gas network is commissioned. To facilitate this, the government is working with Health and Safety Executives to enable 20% hydrogen blending in the gas network by 2023. However, this is subject to successful trials.

In transportation, an investment of GBP20 million in 2021 is planned to test hydrogen and other zero emission freight truck technologies in order to support the industry in developing zero-emission trucks for long-haul road freight.

To achieve these targets, a GBP240 million Net Zero Hydrogen Fund is planned to be set up. It will provide capital co-investment along with the investment from private sector to develop various technologies. These will include carbon capture and storage infrastructure for the production of clean hydrogen that can be used in home, transport, and industrial requirements. The policy is expected to support 8,000 jobs by 2030 and push private investment worth GBP4 billion by 2030.

However, the government’s ambitious 2030 hydrogen policy requires significant investment and participation from the private sector. While several global companies such as ITM Power, Orsted, Phillips 66, etc., have come together to collaborate on the Gigastack project in the UK (which aims to produce clean hydrogen from offshore wind), such private participation will be required on most projects to make them feasible and meet the targets.

Nuclear power

In search of low-carbon electricity sources, UK plans to invest in nuclear energy. In addition to development of large-scale nuclear plants, the investments will also include small modular reactors and advanced modular reactors.

To this effect, the government has set up a GBP385 million Advanced Nuclear Fund. Of this, GBP215 million is to be used towards small modular reactors, i.e., to develop a domestic smaller-scale nuclear power plant technology that could be built in factories and assembled on site. Apart from this, GBP170 million is to be used towards research and development of advanced modular reactors. These are reactors that could operate at over 800˚C, and as a result, unlock efficient production of hydrogen and synthetic fuels. These are also expected to complement the government’s other investments and initiatives with regards to hydrogen and carbon capture.

While the government expects the design and development of small modular reactors to result in private sector investment of up to GBP300 million, these next generation small reactors are currently considered a long shot as no company has created them yet. While Rolls Royce has offered the government to design one, it is conditional on them receiving a subsequent order worth GBP32 billion for 16 such reactors as well as the government paying half of the GBP400 million design cost.

Moreover, nuclear power plants are expensive and long-term investments and are considered to be one of the most expensive sources for power. Thus it is very important to evaluate their economic feasibility. While the government is bullish on the role of nuclear power in decarbonizing electricity, it is very important for large-scale projects to be economical, while small-scale projects still remain at a conceptual stage.

Electric vehicles

It is estimated that cars, vans, and other road transport are the single largest contributor to the UK’s carbon emissions, making up nearly one-fifth of all emissions emitted. Thus the government is committed to reducing carbon emissions produced by automobiles. To achieve this, the country plans to ban the sale of all new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2030 (10 years earlier than initially planned). However, hybrid cars will be allowed to be sold till 2035.

The government has planned a support package of GBP2.8 billion for the country’s car manufacturing sector, which in turn is expected to create about 40,000 employment opportunities up till 2030. Of this, GBP1 billion will be used towards the electrification of vehicles, including setting up factories to produce EV batteries at scale. In addition to this, GBP1.3 billion is planned to be spent to set up and enhance charging infrastructure in the country by installing a large number of charge points close to residential areas, office and commercial spaces, highways, etc., to make charging as convenient as refueling. The government plans to have a network of 2,500 high-power charging points by 2030 and about 6,000 charging points by 2035. Lastly, grants are planned to the tune of about GBP582 million up till 2023 to reduce the cost of EVs (cars, vans, taxis, and two-wheelers) for the consumer. In addition to the investment by the government, private investment of about GBP3 billion is anticipated to trickle into the sector by 2026.

While this is considered to be a very important step in the right direction, it is estimated that it will still leave about 21 million polluting passenger vehicles on the UK roads by 2030 (in comparison to 31 million in 2020). Moreover, the government continues to allow the sale of hybrid cars for another five years beyond 2030, which means that carbon emissions-producing vehicles will still be added to UK roads even after the target dates set in the New Green Industrial Revolution plan.

Green public transport

In addition to reducing carbon emissions from passenger cars, the government also wants to make public transport more approachable and efficient. It plans to spend about GBP5 billion on public transport buses, cycling- and walking-related initiatives and infrastructure.

In addition, funding of GBP4.2 billion is planned on improving and decarbonizing the cities’ public transport network. This will include electrifying more railway lines, integrating train and bus network through smart ticketing, and introducing bus lanes to speed up the journey. The plans also include investment in about 4,000 new zero-emission buses in 2021, as well as funding two all-electric bus towns (Coventry and Oxford) and a completely zero-emission city center. While York and Oxford have shown interest in becoming the UK’s first zero-emission city center, the government has not yet formally announced the city for the same.

Improvements in public transport networks in other cities are also planned to bring them on par with London’s system. A construction of about 1,000 miles of segregated cycle lanes is in plans to encourage people to take up this mode of transportation for shorter distances.

While it is expected these investments will encourage people to use public transport more, the current COVID pandemic has created apprehensions when considering such shared transportation. Although this is expected to be a short-term challenge, it may be a slight damper to the government’s plan for the next year or so.

Jet zero and green ships

Apart from road transport, the government also aims at decarbonizing air and sea travel. It plans to invest GBP15 million in FlyZero – a study by Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) aimed at identifying and solving key technical and commercial issues in design and development of a zero-emission aircraft. Such an aircraft is expected to be developed by 2030. In addition to this, the government plans to run a GBP15 million competition for the development of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) in the UK. The plans also include investing in upgrading airport infrastructure so that it can service battery and hydrogen fueled aircrafts in the future.

In addition to aviation, the government is also investing GBP20 million in the Clean Maritime Demonstration Programme to develop clean maritime technology.

While the plans to develop greener fuel for aircraft and ships is a step in the right direction, it is still somewhat of a long shot as a lot more investment is required into this than proposed. Moreover, the shipping industry in particular has shown little interest in wanting to reform in the past and it is likely that both the sectors will continue to follow international standards (that are high in carbon emissions) to remain competitive globally.

Greener buildings

The UK has a considerable number of old and outdated buildings that the government wants to put in the center of its Green Industrial Plan, thus making existing and new buildings more energy efficient. The plan is to slowly phase out carbon-heavy fossil fuel boilers currently used for heating buildings and instead promote the use of more carbon efficient heat pumps. For new buildings, an energy efficiency standard is to be developed, known as the Future Home Standard. To achieve this, the domestic production of heat pumps needs to be ramped up, so that 600,000 heat pumps are installed annually by 2028. This is expected to support about 50,000 jobs by 2030. In addition to this, the government is providing GBP1 billion to extend the existing Green Home Grant (launched in September 2019) by another year, which is aimed at replacing fossil fuel-based heating in buildings with more energy efficient alternatives.

While the subsequent shift to heat pumps from gas boilers will definitely help reduce the buildings’ carbon footprint, heat pumps are currently much more expensive and more difficult to install. Thus, the government must provide ongoing financial incentives for consumers to make the switch.

Carbon capture, usage, and storage

Carbon capture, usage, and storage (CCUS) technology captures carbon dioxide from power generation, low carbon hydrogen production, and industrial processes, and stores it deep underground, such that it cannot enter the atmosphere. In the UK, it can be stored under the North Sea seabed. A the technology has a critical role to play in making the UK emission free, a GBP1 billion investment is planned to support the establishment of CCUS in 4 industrial clusters by 2030 to capture 10Mt of carbon dioxide per year by 2030. Developed alongside hydrogen, these CCUS will create ‘SuperPlaces’ in areas such as the North East, the Humber, North West, Scotland, and Wales. The development of the CCUS is expected to create 50,000 jobs by 2030.

CCUS is a very new technology, with no large-scale or commercially successful projects operational across the world. While the technology has been proved in pilot projects, its feasibility is yet to be seen. Also, a significant amount of private investment will be required to carry through the proposed project. While some private players, such as Tata Chemicals Europe have begun constructing the first industrial-scale CCU plant (expected to capture 40,000 tons of CO2 per year) in Northwich, the government needs several more private players to step up to meet its ambitious targets.

Nature

In addition to the above mentioned programs, the government plans to safeguard and secure national landscapes as well as restore several wildlife habitats to combat climate change. To achieve that, it plans to reestablish several of the nation’s landscapes under National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Beauty (AONB), as well as create new areas under these two heads. The National Parks and AONB program is expected to add 1.5% of natural land in the UK and will help the government in reaching the target of bringing 30% of the UK’s land under protected status by 2030.

In addition to this, the government plans to invest GBP40 million in nature conservation and restoration projects, which in turn is expected to create several employment opportunities across the country. Moreover, it plans to invest GBP5.2 billion over six years into flood defenses, which will help combat floods and damage to homes as well as natural environment. This is also expected to create about 20,000 jobs up till 2027.

Green finance and innovation

The last agenda on the 10-point Green Industrial Revolution entails developing new sources of financing for supporting innovative green technologies. To this effect, the government has committed an R&D investment of 2.4% of its GDP by 2027. This will extensively be used towards developing high risk, high reward green technologies, which will help the UK attain net zero emissions by 2030.

Additionally, the government launched a GBP1 billion Net Zero Innovation Portfolio that will focus on commercialization of low-carbon technologies mentioned in the 10-point agenda, including development of floating offshore wind, nuclear advanced modular reactors, energy storage, bioenergy, hydrogen, greener buildings, direct air capture and advanced CCUS, industrial fuel switching, and other disruptive technologies. In November 2020, the government launched the first phase of this investment, GBP100 million, towards greenhouse gas removal and in the coming year it plans to invest another GBP100 million towards energy storage. It also plans to invest GBP184 million for fusion energy technologies and developing new fusion facilities. Moreover, GBP20 million will be directed towards development and trials of zero emission heavy goods vehicles.

Apart from this the government plans to issue the UK’s first Sovereign Green Bonds in 2021. These bonds, which are likely to be first of many, are expected to finance sustainable and green projects and facilitate the creation of ‘green jobs’ in the country. Furthermore, similar to the EU Green Deal, the government plans to implement a green taxonomy, which helps define economic activities into two categories – the ones that help limit climate change and others that are detrimental to the environment – to help investors make better investment choices.

EOS Perspective

The UK’s Green Industrial Revolution seems to be a comprehensive policy with a multi-pronged approach to tackle climate change, promote green technology and investments, and achieve net zero emissions by 2050. With Brexit in action, it seems like a worthy counterpart to the EU’s Green Deal, which the UK was initially a part of. Moreover, it is an important framework for the UK to show its commitment towards controlling climate change, especially with the country hosting the upcoming 26th session of the Conference of the Parties (CoP 26) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change summit in Glasgow in 2021.

However, currently the UK’s Green Industrial Revolution is not a legally binding policy document but more of a proposal, which would need to go through several legislative procedures to become binding. Moreover, while the plan is ambitious, it depends heavily on next generation innovative technologies that require hefty investments to achieve the targets. Thus, its success depends on whether the government is seriously committed and prepared to spend heavily on commercializing these technologies along with managing to attract significant amount of private investment to complement own efforts. While few aspects of the 10-point approach have already received investment from the private sector and first phase of funding from the government, it is yet to be seen if the UK’s ambitious net zero emission goals are truly feasible.

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The EU Green Deal – Good on Paper but Is That Enough?

The EU, which has always been ahead of the curve in tackling climate change and ensuring emission control, has rolled out a new EU Green Deal in December 2019. The Green Deal is the most ambitious environmental policy devised by the EU and encompasses several targets and policy measures that will require a complete overhaul in how business across sectors is currently done in the region.

In the beginning of December 2019, European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, unveiled a suite of policies known as the EU New Green Deal and called it Europe’s ‘man on the moon moment’. EU’s Green Deal is aimed at decarbonizing the economy and encompasses a host of policy measures including a plan to ensure EU reaches net-zero emissions by 2050.

To this effect, it has also increased its carbon emission reduction targets from 40% to 55% for 2030. This is the ubiquitous goal for the Commission and all its measures and policies are to be aligned to achieve this objective. Thus, the EU Commission is expected to review and align laws and regulations, such as the Renewable Energy Directive, Energy Efficiency Directive, and Emissions Trading Directive among many others, over the next couple of years to ensure that they are tuned to support the ambitious climate goals. Moreover, taxation will also be aligned with climate objectives to ensure effectiveness.

Policy measures

In order to achieve this objective of carbon neutrality, the EU Commission is focusing on energy efficiency since the production and use of energy across the EU states accounts for 75% of EU’s greenhouse gas emissions. The EU member states are revising their energy and climate plans to ensure higher dependence on renewable sources (especially offshore wind energy production) and phasing out coal and gas-based energy. Moreover, the Commission has also guided member states to review and update their energy infrastructure to ensure the use of innovative and energy-efficient technologies such as smart grids and hydrogen networks.

The Commission is also working towards adopting a new EU industrial strategy along with a new circular economy action plan. The plan will focus on decarbonizing and modernizing several energy-intensive industries, such as steel, chemicals, and cement. It will also include a ‘sustainable product policy’ that will prioritize reducing and reusing materials before recycling them. Moreover, while the circular economy action plan will be applied across all sectors, it will be most relevant for resource-intensive sectors such as textiles, construction, electronics, and plastics.

The plan will focus on fostering new business models that drive sustainable use of resources, set regulations and minimum standards to prevent environmentally harmful products from being sold in EU markets, as well as set a regulatory framework to ensure that all packaging in the EU is reusable or recyclable in an economically viable manner by 2030. In addition to this, the Commission aims at achieving ‘clean steelmaking’ by 2030 by using hydrogen for the process and introduce new legislation by 2020 to ensure that all batteries are reusable and recyclable.

Understanding that construction, use, and renovation of buildings account for a significant part (about 40%) of energy consumed in the EU, the Commission aims at improving energy efficiency in this sector by focusing on more frequent renovations. A quicker renovation rate helps improve the energy performance of buildings and is effective in lowering energy bills and reducing energy poverty. Currently, the annual renovation rate of buildings in the EU states ranges between 0.4% and 1.2%. However, the Commission is looking to at least double the renovation rate to reach its energy efficiency and climate objectives.

In addition to this, the Commission is also working towards curbing carbon emissions from transportation, which accounts for about 25% of EU’s total greenhouse gas emissions. In order to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, the current transport emission levels would be needed to be cut down by about 90%. To attain this, the Commission has planned for significant investment in boosting electric vehicles and plans to deploy 1 million public recharging stations across the EU states by 2025. Moreover, in July 2021, the Commission plans to revise the legislation on CO2 emission performance standards for cars and vans to achieve its target of zero-emission mobility by 2025.

With regards to commercial transport, the EU Commission aims at pushing automated and digitized multimodal transport. It aims at shifting 75% of inland freight currently carried by road to rail and inland waterways. Moreover, it aims at deploying smart traffic management systems and sustainable mobility services that will facilitate a reduction in congestion and pollution.

The EU Green Deal – Good on Paper but Is That Enough by EOS Intelligence

The Commission also plans to align agriculture and food production with its climate goals. To this effect, the Commission is expected to present a ‘Farm to Fork’ strategy in spring 2020, which aims to introduce and strengthen policies in the agriculture and fisheries space so that they are well equipped to tackle climate change and preserve biodiversity. As per the Commission’s new proposal, 40% of the agricultural policy’s budget and 30% of the maritime fisheries fund within the EU 2021-2027 budget will contribute to climate action and objectives. In addition to this, the ‘Farm to Fork’ strategy aims at significantly reducing the use of chemical pesticides, fertilizers, and antibiotics and in turn increase the area under organic farming.

In addition to agriculture, the EU Commission also aims at preserving and restoring biodiversity. To this effect, the Commission will present a new ‘Biodiversity Strategy’ by March 2020, which will be shared at the UN Biodiversity Summit to be held in China in October 2020. The biodiversity strategy is expected to be brought to action in 2021 and will cover measures aimed to address the key drivers of biodiversity loss such as soil and water pollution. The policy will also encompass a new EU forest strategy that will focus on afforestation, forest preservation, and restoration, which in turn will increase CO2 absorption and aid EU’s ambitious climate goals.

Lastly, the EU Commission plans to reach a ‘pollution-free environment’ by 2050. For this purpose, it plans to review and revise measures that monitor pollution from large industrial installations. Moreover, to ensure a toxic-free environment, the Commission will present a sustainable chemicals strategy that will protect the environment (and citizens) against hazardous chemicals and encourage innovation for the development of safe and sustainable alternatives.

Global trade

The EU’s Green Deal is ambitious, with measures in place to achieve this goal. However, the economic bloc cannot realize this goal in isolation. To get other countries to act on climate change and also prevent the influx of cheaper imports from countries that do not have similar strict policies on carbon emissions, the EU plans to propose a border adjustment carbon tax. This carbon tax is expected to be introduced by 2021 with an initial focus on industries such as steel, cement, and aluminum. The tax may hamper imports from the USA and China as well as smaller countries that cannot afford such climate-based policy measures. However, there is still some ambiguity regarding the tax as it may breach WTO rules, which require equal treatment for similar products, whether domestic or international.

Investment

To achieve this arduous goal, the EU will require a significant amount of additional investment. For starters, the Commission will require additional investment of about EUR260 billion (~US$288 billion) per annum only to achieve the 2030 goal (of reducing carbon emissions by 55%). This is about 1.5% of the EU’s 2018 GDP. Thus it is safe to assume that the investment required for achieving zero emissions by 2050 will be much higher.

The magnitude of the investment requirement will call for participation from both the public and private sector. To achieve this, the commission will present a Sustainable Europe Investment Plan, which will help meet the additional funding needs. The Plan will provide dedicated financing to support sustainable projects in addition to building a proposal for an improved regulatory framework. The commission has also proposed to dedicate at least 25% of the EU’s long-term budget towards achieving climate-based objectives. Moreover, the European Investment Bank (EIB), which has about EUR550 billion funds in its balance sheet, has also pledged to increase its lending towards green projects, thereby becoming a climate bank of sorts. While EIB is already in the process to phase out financing fossil fuel dependent projects by 2021, the bank aims for 50% of its financing to go towards green projects by 2025 (up from 28% in 2019).

In order to ensure an easy and fair transition to climate neutrality, the Commission plans to mobilize a EUR100 billion fund to help regions most dependent on fossil fuels or carbon-intensive sectors. The fund, also called the ‘Just Transition Mechanism’ fund will be funded from the EU’s regional policy budget as well as the EIB. The fund will be used primarily to support and protect citizens most vulnerable to the transition by providing access to re-skilling programs, technical assistance, jobs in new sectors, or energy-efficient housing.

Moreover, the Horizon Europe research and innovation program will also contribute to the Green Deal. As per a new agreement between the EU members in May 2019, 35% of the EUR 100 billion (US$110 billion) research budget for 2021-2027 will be used for funding clean tech and climate-related projects.

With regards to the private sector participating in this green transition, the commission will present a Green Financing Strategy in Q3 2020, which is expected to incentivize the private sector to invest in sustainable and green projects.

To this effect the Commission has created a classification system that for the first time defines what is considered as ‘green projects’ or ‘sustainable economic activities’. This classification is also termed as the ‘green list’ or ‘taxonomy’. This will help redirect private and public capital to projects that are actually sustainable and in turn help the transition to climate neutrality and prohibit ‘greenwashing’, i.e. the practice of marketing financial products as ‘green’ or ‘sustainable’ when actually they do not meet basic environmental standards.

Moreover, it will be made mandatory for companies and financial institutions to provide full disclosure on their climate and environmental impact to clearly lay out how their portfolio stands with regards to the set taxonomy criteria. This is expected to not only increase the transparency of the financial markets but also steer more private investments towards financing an economy that is aligned towards a green transition.

 

The Taxonomy Criteria

The EU Commission set out a basic framework to define what can be termed as a sustainable economic activity. It sets out six environmental objectives and four requirements that need to be complied with in order to make it to the green list.

Six objectives are as follows:

1.       Climate change mitigation

2.       Climate change adaptation

3.       Sustainable use and protection of water and marine resources

4.       Transition to a circular economy

5.       Pollution prevention and control

6.       Protection and restoration of biodiversity and ecosystems

 

Four requirements that need to be met to qualify are as follows:

1.       Must provide a substantial contribution to at least one of the six environmental objectives

2.       Must not provide ‘any significant harm’ to any of the other environmental objectives

3.       Must have compliance with robust and science-based technical screening criteria

4.       Must have compliance with minimum social and governance safeguards

While this provides a general framework, detailed rules and thresholds along with a list of sustainable economic activities will be assessed and developed based on recommendations from a ‘Technical Expert Group on Sustainable Finance’, which is advising the European Commission on this matter.

 EOS Perspective

The Green Deal makes EU the world’s largest economic bloc to adopt such ambitious measures that aim to cease or offset all emissions created by them by mid-century. As per climate scientists, this is necessary to ensure that global temperatures do not rise by more than 1.5-2˚C above the 1990 levels.

While these goals sound promising, they are rarely achieved because they are usually not binding. However, in this case the commission announced that the net-zero emission target would be made legally binding. While that does make achieving the Green Deal objectives more promising, many experts still remain skeptical about the bloc’s capability to achieve it. This is given the fact that the EU has failed to meet 29 (out of 35) environmental and climate targets for 2020. These include energy savings, air, water, and soil pollution, etc.

Moreover, the plan can only be achieved if the EU Council, Commission, and the Parliament, come together and work in tandem and in a timely manner and also work individually with member states to ensure guidelines are converted into actions. For instance, currently CO2 are taxed at different levels across member states (EUR 112 (US$123) per ton in Sweden, EUR 45 (US$50) per ton in France and tax-exempt in Germany). To get all member states to agree at a common point and have a pan-EU strategy is a difficult task. Thus, while the EU has devised an all-encompassing strategy and dedicated significant funds to the same, results will only materialize if there is inclusive and credible implementation of the plans.

In addition to this, there is also some criticism of the policy at a global level, with some nations indicating that it has more to do with protectionism rather than climate goals, owing to its policy on border adjustment carbon tax. Since the EU has more measures and flexibility to cut emissions in its own region, it creates an unfair disadvantage for its trade partners (some of who are still in the developing stage and cannot afford such measures). Moreover, given the technical and political complexities of the carbon tax (with regards to WTO and other trade treaties), it is unlikely that it will be implemented before 2024, which is when the current President Ursula von der Leyen’s term gets over. This will further make its implementation dicey.

However, all being said, the EU Green Deal is a policy in the right direction. With the blueprints being laid down, now it all depends on the implementation. While few measures may be difficult to achieve, there is a lot of unanimous backing for green finance. An increasing number of investors is moving away from ‘brown’ assets towards climate-friendly investments. Irrespective of the outcome or success of the Green Deal, green investments are definitely the future. Thus companies, both within the EU as well as globally, must look at innovating their processes as well as products/services to align them with climate goals to lure both public and private funding in the long run.

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Growing Appetite for Plant-Based Foods Disrupts the Meat Market

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Not many years ago, veganism or consumption of only plant-based foods, was considered an extreme form of lifestyle. Food options that were available for vegans were very limited and meat alternatives were based mainly on tofu, tempeh, and nuts. However, this is not the case anymore. Not only has the mindset regarding vegan food changed in the recent times, but also plant-based alternatives have become the fastest growing food category in the USA. This is also driven by a greater number of meat eaters experimenting with plant-based meat alternatives, whether due to health benefits, growing awareness regarding animal cruelty, or environmental reasons. Moreover, tremendous amount of investment and research in this space has resulted in wide range of food options, including vegan cheese and vegan meats that taste similar to animal-based proteins.

Vegan food has been around for quite some time now, but it was largely considered to be a niche market having a separate shelf in the supermarkets or being served in vegan-only restaurants and cafes. Moreover, it was considered an extreme lifestyle by many. However, over recent years, vegan meal options have found their way into the mainstream, with more and more people embracing veganism and meat-eaters adding plant-based food options in their diet. This is clearly evident from the steep growth witnessed by this food category, especially in the western world.

As per a study commissioned by the Good Food Institute (GFI) and the Plant Based Food Association in the USA, the retail market for plant-based foods was valued at about US$4.5 billion in April 2019, registering a year-on-year increase of about 11% and a growth of 31% in the two-year period from April 2017 through April 2019. The largest segment of vegan food market in the year ending April 2019 was the plant-based milk segment, which comprised about 40% of sales (US$1.9 billion). This category witnessed a y-o-y increase of about 6%. To put this in further perspective, animal-derived milk sales for the same period declined by 3%. While plant-based meat alternatives, cheeses, yogurts, eggs, and creamers are relatively new and smaller categories, they are driving growth in the vegan food segment too.

The growing sales across most vegan food segments indicate a momentous shift towards a vegan diet, which is not only propelled by an increasing number of people turning purely vegan but also a rise in meat eaters that prefer plant-based alternatives in some food categories, such as milk and milk-based products. This is due to growing lactose intolerance among consumers, with about 65% of the world’s population estimated to be lactose intolerant. The environmental benefits (i.e. lower carbon footprint) of maintaining a vegan diet and a growing uproar regarding animal cruelty have also driven conscious consumers to adopt a vegan lifestyle.

The environmental benefits (i.e. lower carbon footprint) of maintaining a vegan diet and a growing uproar regarding animal cruelty have also driven conscious consumers to adopt a vegan lifestyle.

The trend is further supported by the launch of vegan meat substitutes that resemble meat products in taste, look, and even texture. US-based players, Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, are leading this space with the latter having received investments from the likes of Bill Gates, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Twitter co-founders Biz Stone and Evan Williams.

Industry players are diversifying into plant-based foods

Understanding that this trend is more than just a fad, several food companies (including large meat producers) have started entering this space, by either buying or investing in plant-based food start-ups.

Tyson Foods, USA’s leading meat producer, invested in Beyond Meat in 2016 and 2017, by acquiring a 6.52% stake in the company. However, in April 2019, Tyson Foods sold its stake in Beyond Meat with an intention to develop its in-house line of alternative (plant-based) protein products.

Nestle, which is one of the largest food companies globally, has also been expanding its portfolio with a keen focus on plant-based alternatives. In 2017, the company purchased Sweet Earth, a California-based producer of vegan meals and snacks, while in 2018, it purchased majority stake in Terrafertil, a plant-based organic food player that was founded in Ecuador and has presence across the USA, UK, and Latin America.

In January 2019, Nestle expressed its plans to launch its in-house vegan burger patty, called the Incredible Burger under its Garden Gourmet brand. The company is also looking to develop a portfolio of dairy-free beverages, such as purple milk (which is made with walnuts and blueberries) and blue latte containing spirulina algae. It is also adding vegan options to its existing brands, such as Haagen-Dazs (which launched a range of dairy-free ice creams in July 2017) and Nescafe (which introduced vegan protein-based coffee smoothies in December 2018).

Similarly, Marfig, Brazil-based leading meat processor, also entered the plant-based food alternatives market through a partnership with Archer Daniels Midland in August 2019. Under the partnership, Archer Daniels Midland will produce the raw material while Marfig will produce and sell the end product through foodservice and retail channels.

Canada-based Maple Leaf has also made significant investments in plant-based food players to expand its product portfolio and brand positioning. In February 2018, it acquired US-based plant protein manufacturer, Lightlife Foods, for US$140 million. Through this acquisition, it added Lightlife’s refrigerated plant-based products, such as hot dogs, breakfast foods, and burgers, to its portfolio and garnered a strong footprint in the US plant-based food market. To further strengthen its hold in this market, in December 2018, the company entered into an agreement to buy US-based Field Roast Grain Meat Co. for US$120 million. Field Roast Grain Meat supplies grain-based meat alternatives (including sausages, burgers, etc.) and vegan cheese products to the North American market.

Danone, a global food company with large number of dairy products is also bullish on the growing popularity of plant-based foods. In April 2017, it purchased WhiteWave Foods, a US-based leading player in plant-based food and beverage for US$10 billion. It rebranded the company to DanoneWave and in October 2017, further invested US$60 million into its plant-based milk operations. In 2019, the company expressed plans to triple its revenue (to about US$5.6 billion) from its plant-based food line by 2025.

In addition to these, many other large food processors and retailers have entered the plant-based food market either through acquisitions or the launch of in-house products and brands. These include Brazil-based JBS Foods, US-based Smithfield Foods, UK-based Hilton Food Group, Germany-based Wiesenhof, UK-based Heck Food, Canada-based Saputo, and US-based Dean Foods Company, among many others.

In addition to these leading food producers, many other large food processors and retailers have entered the plant-based food market either through acquisitions or the launch of in-house products and brands.

Fast food chains have also joined the vegan bandwagon. In April 2019, Burger King introduced a vegan version of its classic sandwich, called the Impossible Whopper. Similarly, Dunkin introduced a vegan breakfast sausage made by Beyond Meat, while KFC launched vegan fried chicken also made by Beyond Meat. In 2017, McDonald’s launched a vegan burger in Finland and Sweden and has plans to launch the same in Germany. In 2016, UK-based café, Pret a Manger opened a vegan pop-up store in central London and later made it permanent in 2017. Over the years, it opened three more stores (two in London and one in Manchester) under the name Veggie Pret. In April 2019, the company purchased rival food chain, Eat, and aims to convert about 90 of its stores into its vegan chain, Veggie Pret.

Just like the food producers and quick service restaurant chains, supermarkets have also been quick to respond to the vegan trend. In 2018, Tesco, a leading UK-based supermarket chain, launched its own range of vegan foods under the name Wicked Kitchen. Similarly, British department store chain, Marks & Spencer has also introduced a vegan food range in its food department. Vegan options have been introduced and are easily available across a wide range of US-based departmental stores such as Whole Foods, Target, and Kroger.

However, the key shift seen in departmental stores regarding plant-based meals is their placement. Traditionally, vegan food including plant-based meats and dairy were stocked together in a ‘vegetarian’ or ‘vegan’ isle or section. However, recently, these options have begun to be stored alongside their animal-based counterparts. For instance, plant-based dairy has now been moved to the beverage or dairy case. This exposes shoppers to a wider range of options for milk and increases the shopper’s chances of trying plant-based alternatives. This thereby opens the category to shoppers who otherwise would have not explored the separate vegan section in the store.

Similarly, plant-based meat options are also being increasingly stored along with traditional meat items, widening the choice for consumers who are flexitarians (i.e. consumers who are not completely vegan but do also consume vegan food from time to time). UK-based department chain, Sainsbury, was the first supermarket in the UK to place vegan products that are designed to look and taste like meat within the meat section.

Challenges ahead

While the number of vegan consumers is on the rise, it is still very low when compared with people consuming a meat-based diet. Moreover, while a great number of people are exploring vegan options, vegan meals are still largely perceived as offering limited nutritional value when compared with traditional meat-based meals, especially with regards to protein intake. While there is limited truth to this, companies offering vegan options have to invest substantially to educate consumers regarding the nutritional value of vegan meals.

In addition to this, vegan or plant-based meal options face another mindset block. Meat eating has long been associated with masculinity. This by contrary gives vegan meals a perception of being less ‘manly’ and thereby limiting the number of men who are open to embracing this meal option. To counter this, market leaders such as Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat have been avoiding terms such as vegan and vegetarian in their marketing strategy and have been promoting their burgers at male-centric locations such as sports events. Instead of pushing men to eat less meat, they are working towards expanding the definition of meat in the consumer’s mind to include plant-based options. They have also included ingredients (such as beet juice) in their burger to resemble a bleeding beef, making it clone the beef burger in terms of appearance, texture, and experience of consuming.

Other than mindset, price is also currently a considerable barrier for consumers. Plant-based meat substitutes are more expensive when compared with animal meat. While the Beyond Burger sells for about US$12 a pound at Whole Foods (a leading retail chain), its beef counterpart retails for about US$5. Similarly, Beyond Meat’s, Beyond Sausage retails for US$10.30 a pound, charging a premium of about 70% over a comparable pork sausage. Higher price points are off-putting for a big chunk of consumers, who may otherwise be willing to change eating habits owing to health or environmental reasons. While currently, the prices differ greatly, it is expected that the price difference will reduce in the long run (or be wiped off completely). Understanding price to be a big limiting factor, companies such as Beyond Meat are researching and investing into alternative plant protein sources that would lower the cost.

Price is also currently a considerable barrier for consumers. Plant-based meat substitutes are more expensive when compared with animal meat. While the Beyond Burger sells for about US$12 a pound at Whole Foods (a leading retail chain), its beef counterpart retails for about US$5.

However, one of the biggest roadblocks faced by the vegan food producers in making them mainstream is the backlash from the meat industry, which has in some cases resulted in labeling regulations that are damaging for the growth of the plant-based food sector.

In 2017, the EU banned the use of the term ‘milk’ and other dairy products, such as ‘cheese’, ‘yogurt’, etc., for plant-based alternatives (however, traditional versions such as almond or coconut milk and peanut butter are excluded from the ban).

In April 2018, France banned meat names for plant-based alternatives, such as vegetable ‘steak’, soy ‘sausage’, and ‘bacon-flavored strips’. Similarly, in May 2019, the European Parliament’s agriculture committee proposed a ban on the use of meat-related terminology on their labels and product description for vegetarian or vegan products. This includes terms such as ‘steak’, ‘sausage’, and ‘burger’. The proposal will be voted upon by the Members of the European Parliament in autumn 2019 and if passed, will be a big setback to the vegan industry as they would be required to remove the word burger from any product that does not contain meat.

In the USA, a Dairy Pride Act, which requires FDA to stop all plant-based dairy alternatives from being labeled as ‘milk’, was reintroduced in Congress in March 2019 (after being squashed earlier in 2017). While the chances of the bill being passed remain slim, if passed, it could seriously dampen growth in the vegan dairy market in the USA. Most of these legal actions are likely to have stemmed from strong meat and dairy lobbies that are directly impacted by the growth witnessed in the vegan market.

EOS Perspective

There is no doubt that the plant-based food market is growing exponentially and the food industry is taking notice. Meat producers and animal-based dairy companies are currently at a fork, where they may face some level of cannibalization of sales (especially in case of dairy) when they introduce vegan alternatives to their portfolio. The cases of Kodak and Apple are important examples when discussing the prospects of cannibalization of sales. While Kodak failed to innovate at the time of camera digitalization due to a fear of cannibalizing sales of its then popular camera films, Apple has made this one of its strength by innovating and launching new products that have (to an extent) cannibalized its own sales (IPhone for IPods and IPad for Mac).

While most players in the food industry have been quick to understand the potential of plant-based food market and have started to invest in this segment, several others still remain resistant to change. This may cost them dearly. Moreover, evaluating the future prospects of this industry, it may be prudent for meat producers to be focusing more on their plant-based food section than their long existing meat business. In a first of its kind case, in May 2019, Vivera Foodgroup, a leading European meat company sold off its meat business retailed under the brand name, Enkco, to Netherland-based Van Loon Group so that it could solely focus on its vegan food line.

However, while plant-based foods seem to be the future now, things may stir up again when clean meat (also known as lab-grown meat) goes mainstream. Currently, a lot of industry players (such as Tyson Foods) and business tycoons (such as Bill Gates) have begun investing in companies that are researching and developing lab-grown meat. It is expected to become a reality very soon, however, it may still take some years for lab-grown meat to match the prices and volume of farmed animal meat as well as obtain the required regulatory approval. While clean meat will definitely upset sales of farmed meat, it may also have a considerable impact on the plant-based food market as several consumers (who turned to vegan options due to animal cruelty and environmental reasons), may switch to clean meat instead of vegan alternatives. Thus vegan companies must stay ahead of the curve in terms of pricing as well flavors and product range to not only thrive but also survive in the coming times.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

EU New Medical Device Regulations: Cause of Ache for Medical Device Players

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Circling around patient care and improving overall healthcare services, the European Parliament has set new requirements for medical device and in vitro diagnostic manufacturers that distribute products in the EU. However, medical device manufacturers have realized that they are bound to face many challenges in order to make their products market-ready, not to forget the gigantic task of implementing new protocols in a timely manner, which will not be easy.

Need for a comprehensive updated medical device regulatory system

EU’s Medical Device Regulation (MDR) and In Vitro Diagnostic Medical Devices Regulation (IVDR) were made official in May 2017, with transition period of three years (fully applicable from May 26, 2020) for the former and five years (fully applicable from May 26, 2022) for the latter. These regulations will replace EU’s previous directives: Medical Device Directive (MDD), Active Implantable Medical Devices Directive (AIMDD), and In Vitro Diagnostic Directive (IVDD).

The need for new regulations of medical devices in EU arose from the growing demand for technologically advanced medical products which necessitated more stringent monitoring of these devices to ensure a high level of efficacy and safety among patients.

Unlike earlier version of the regulations where the main focus revolved around the pre-approval stage of medical device manufacturing, the new regulatory guidelines promote an overall product-life cycle approach, focusing on both device safety and performance.

Enhanced supervision, easy documentation of devices, more stringent clinical evidence requirement, and increased supervision on part of authorities providing medical device certifications are some of the key changes in MDR as compared to the EU’s previous directives.

Bumpy road ahead for medical device manufacturers

Reclassifying existing product line-up

Based on the risk factor, changes have been made to the way medical devices are classified. Under MDR, the number of classification rules has expanded from 18 to 22 intensifying the task of product re-classifications by the manufacturer.

For instance, products using software for monitoring purposes being implanted in the body has been reclassified to higher-risk class (from Class I to Class III) which would now require conformity assessment by a notified body (NB – an organization that assess the conformity of medical devices before they are placed on the market), unlike earlier, when Class I products did not require assessment via a NB. This is going to burden players with increased operational costs; thus, it is imperative that the manufacturers familiarize themselves with the classification changes and study the impact on their product portfolio.

New products are also being added to the list of medical devices that earlier were not part of the medical device regulatory framework. For instance, products manufactured utilizing human tissues or cells and devices incorporating nanomaterial, under new regulations, will be considered medical devices. Manufacturers of such products have work cut out for them – from conducting clinical investigations, preparing technical documentation and evaluation processes, to product certification. Though such products could only form a very small percentage of the company’s product range, the task to make them available in the market is great, especially under current circumstances.

Manufacturers who do not comply with the new regulations will no longer be able to market their products in Europe. Thus, a robust strategy in terms of resource allocation, time management, and budget is an absolute must for manufacturers to make this transition possible.

EU MDR Cause of Ache for Medical Device Players - EOS Intelligence

Distress over notified bodies

Strict parameters are also being applied on NBs. Since all devices will require new certification from a NB, only designated NBs will be able to certify a device. The designation process is a complex procedure as it involves audits and corrective actions (once a NB expresses interest). However, while the medical device manufacturers have been in the process of switching to newer protocols since mid-2017, the first designated NB (BSI United Kingdom, the national standards body of the UK) was announced in January, 2019, almost 18 months after the regulations were announced and 14 months into the formally started designation process.

Such time-consuming process raises concern among medical device companies about the ability to complete the necessary conformity assessments within the allotted time. The huge task of recertifying medical devices with only a handful of designated NBs is a cause of worry for companies, as it could potentially result in significant backlogs as the last date approaches. However, there is only so much companies can do – even though they are proactive to comply with the new regulations much ahead of the deadline, poor process planning and lack of supporting bodies (notified bodies in this case) results in a long halt for these players.

The companies are heavily dependent on NBs for auditing and product certification, and the insufficient number of designated bodies adds to the risk of many devices being non-compliant according to new regulations. As of May 2019, less than 40 NBs have filed application for designation procedure (out of 58 designated NBs under the directives); only two have actually received a designated status – BSI UK and Germany based TÜV SÜD Product Service GmbH Zertifizierstellen (certification received in May 2019). With very little time at hand to reassess and rectify issues (if any), this could jeopardize the product availability in the market, resulting in not only risking the patients’ life (due to non-availability) but also in huge financial losses for the players.

Detailed clinical evaluation of medical devices

Owing to reclassification of product categories, many devices will require changes to their existing clinical evaluation reports, another challenge for medical device manufacturers. Manufacturers that have not previously been required to perform clinical testing will have to do so now. For instance, mechanical heart valve sizers will be moved up from Class I to Class III, and unlike in MDD where clinical evaluation was based on literature analysis, new evaluation of valve sizers will require clinical investigation. This will require a huge deal of additional time, money, and expertise, further burdening the device manufacturers.

Medical devices already in the market that remain untouched by the reclassification criteria will still require reassessment of clinical data. If the data do not meet the new requirements, devices will need to undergo additional testing to be recertified, increasing the expense for manufacturers.

MDR also calls for inclusion of risk management within the clinical evaluation expecting clinical risks to be addressed in clinical investigations and evaluation studies – adding another task to the long list of activities to be accomplished before MDR fully rolls out.


Explore our other Perspectives on medical devices markets


Comprehensive demonstration of equivalence data

Unlike MDD, where device manufacturers were able to use clinical data of an equivalent device for their own product registration, under MDR, equivalence is going to be less accepted, particularly for higher risk devices.

There are two ways out – manufacturers can either conduct their own trials not having to deal with the equivalence commotion or they can demonstrate that they have access to the equivalent device (with respect to technical and clinical properties) data. The latter is highly unlikely to happen considering equivalent device would typically belong to a competitor unwilling to grant such access. Thus, with stern requirements for comparative evaluations, more effort, planning, money, and resources will be needed for device manufacturers to demonstrate product safety and performance.

As new medical devices are developed, multiple small incremental improvements (minor changes in design, addition or subtraction of small hardware parts such as bolts or screws) happen over time. Once the device is already in the market, it is practically impossible to conduct a re-trial to gain approval for such small changes. An expected solution to this would be a provision to accept such minor changes through pre-clinical evidence or prior trial results. However, with equivalence testing being reduced drastically under MDR, unless a solution for such cases is offered, manufacturers will have to conduct re-trial and re-document everything, which would result in significantly increased cost. Another issue that could arise from such situations is the reduction in R&D activities inclined towards product improvement.

Trouble galore for SME’s

While making amendments and prioritizing to comply with new regulations seems to be the top most priority for medical and diagnostic device manufacturers, it seems SMEs will be dramatically more impacted than large players – in Europe, a small-sized company employs less than 50 people and has a turnover of less than or equal to €10 million while a medium-sized company employs less than 250 people and has a turnover of less than or equal to €50 million. Owing to the increase in cost, time, and resources associated with the process, the new regulations may put smaller companies under pressure, possibly resulting in altering (such as merging with or being acquired by larger companies) the European medical device market structure, currently dominated by SMEs – there are nearly 27,000 medical technology companies in EU, 95% of which are SMEs.

SMEs also need to be more vigilant when it comes to being associated with a designated NB as not all currently functioning NBs are expected to get a designated status. With their already dwindling numbers married with an increased demand for their services, once the new regulations roll out, it is quite possible that small manufacturers are orphaned since NBs could be partial towards larger players and prioritize them over other small and medium players.

Smaller players will not only have to hire additional personnel for dealing with regulatory issues but also employ clinical trials specialists (for documenting insights to be presented and approved by the NB) for launching products in the market which means higher costs. Adjusting budgets to keep costs under control would hamper other critical business operations, e.g. reduce R&D activities or cut the number of products being launched in the market.

As a step to overcome these issues, players with limited financial resources should strategically study their product portfolio to determine which products are worth investing in for MDR compliance. For doing this, they should lay out a detailed plan for each product and decide whether to remediate, transition, or divest.

It is also advised that SMEs should devise a clear step-by-step approach plan to ensure compliance. As an alternative to hiring transition specialists, they could engage employees from various functions within the organization to take responsibility for specific processes thus keeping costs in check.

EOS Perspective

The changes and revisions required to be carried out under MDR are company-wide and require significant investment to plan and execute. This will lead to players devising a business strategy based on assessing risk associated with product portfolio (whether some products need to be pulled out from the market and what effect it would have on future revenue) or looking for acquisition partners. Based on these decisions, the medical device market topography in EU is expected to see some major changes in the coming years – small companies looking for partners to get acquired or for new partnership with a service provider (specializing in regulations compliance). This will also result in organizational restructuring, revamping design processes, and systems implementation.

Companies have to make crucial decisions around the product portfolio. For some of the already existing products, if reclassified, the cost of compliance could be much higher than actual market returns. In such cases, manufacturers may be compelled to pull away such products from the market resulting in high healthcare costs and ultimately burdening the patients, who (theoretically) form the center point of the MDR. Though this is unlikely to happen at a large scale, since there are always alternative products available, it cannot be denied that this may be a major loophole in MDR requiring immediate attention.

Since SMEs drive the EU medical device market, as an immediate consequence, MDR is not likely to have any positive effect on these players other than distorting their business operations. However, it can only be anticipated that, with time, MDR may adapt and amend to offer some relaxation in provisions especially for small and medium-sized players. Nonetheless, MDR also brings an opportunity for such players to audit their current offerings and come out with an enhanced product portfolio, which could be an opportunity to be capitalized on in the distant future.

Modifications being made in the functioning of NBs are also likely to have an impact on the device manufacturers. For high risk devices, manufacturers may expect deeper scrutiny of design records and data files leading to providing more credentials, in case any query arises. This, along with long wait time for product review (due to reduction in the number of designated NBs) and limited availability of resources (again on account of NBs), could lead to unknown delays for obtaining product re-certification. Thus, companies need to chalk out their market strategies very effectively and be prepared to address any concern that rises during product reviews.

The aim of implementing new regulations is to bring a transparent and robust regulatory framework for medical devices. However, there is no assurance that the new regulations are completely accurate and will apply seamlessly to live case scenarios. Therefore, once implemented, there is a possibility that MDR may see revisions in the initial months of coming into action.

These changes, though certainly positive from a healthcare point of view, are enormous. Transitioning to meet the new standards within the stipulated time frame is challenging for manufacturers. Not adapting to the changes is not a choice for manufacturers as non-compliance could result in losing license to operate in the EU market. And for players fearing stringent scrutiny in the future, operating in the European healthcare market will not be easy once the new regulations come into force.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Europe Fights Back to Curb China’s Dominance

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Given the swiftness of China’s economic development in the past three decades, transitioning from an impoverished and insular country to one of the formidable economic powers of the world, it has taken some time for Europe to accept China’s growing power and influence. Not only does China sit on largest currency reserves worldwide, but it has also become a significant provider of foreign investments, including in EU nations. This has recently strengthened China’s influence over the EU, which has created a sense of caution amidst European policymakers.

How is Europe benefiting from China’s growing investments?

Europe-bound Chinese investments were six times higher than Chinese investments in the USA – in H1 2018, Chinese investments in Europe stood at US$ 12 billion as compared to US$ 2 billion in the USA. For some of the economically struggling EU countries, Chinese investments are critical for developing and upgrading infrastructure, including energy plants, railways, motorways, and airports.

China’s Belt and Road initiative, under which cross-border infrastructure will be developed, will reduce transportation costs across Europe and China, creating an opportunity to facilitate trade expansion, regional integration, and attract foreign investments.

Besides infrastructure development, the investments are likely to create job opportunities and enhance economic competitiveness across Europe.

Then why is China’s growing influence alarming Europe?

Europe now sees a range of threats that China’s rising dominance in the region could bring along. Recently, the European Commission labelled China as economic competitor seeking technological leadership and systemic rival encouraging alternative models of governance. Europe realizes that China pursuits to shape globalization to suit its own interests.

The EU is deeply concerned regarding China exercising divide and rule tactics to strengthen its relationship with individual member countries that are susceptible to pressure, which could eventually harm the European cohesion. Recently, Italy signed the Belt and Road initiative, a landmark move against the counsel of western European nations, such as France and Germany, thus, raising questions on cohesion of EU countries.

The other concern is China’s rising influence over key governments of EU nations, thus, empowering itself with political leverage across the continent. China has already yielded political returns by wearying EU unity, particularly, when it is related to European policy on international law and human rights. In 2017, Hungary broke EU’s consensus by refusing to sign letter on human right violation against China. During the same year, Greece blocked an EU statement, which condemned China’s human rights record, at the UN human rights council.

Besides politics, China has also spread wings across key sectors of economy such as infrastructure, high-end manufacturing (including critical segments such as electronics, semiconductors, automotive, etc.), and consumer services, among others – growing dominance of China across these sectors is another cause of worry for the EU.

Europe also condemns China’s discrimination against foreign businesses, rendering limited market access to European firms and employing a non-transparent bidding processes. European firms operating in China face several trade and investment barriers such as joint venture obligations and discriminatory technical requirements that entail forced data localization and technology transfers. On the other, European markets have been open to foreign investments leading to massive Chinese FDI. However, lack of reciprocity harms European interest and could lead to unfulfilled EU-China trade ties.

The EU also criticizes China’s Belt and Road project for its lack of respect for labor, environment, and human rights standards. Other concerns include non-transparent procurement procedures with majority of contracts being awarded to Chinese companies without issuing public tenders, meagre use of domestic labor and limited contractor participation from host country, and use of construction materials from China – all of which undermine Europe’s interests.

Europe Fights Back to Curb China’s Dominance

How is Europe responding to China’s actions?

Europe is adopting strategies to limit China’s influence and reach across Europe and beyond, in African and Pacific countries.

Development of EU-Asia Connectivity Strategy

The EU’s new initiative, EU-Asia Connectivity Strategy, is an implicit response to China’s Belt and Road initiative, signifying a crucial first step to promoting European priorities and interests in terms of connectivity. The initiative aims to improve connectivity between Europe and Asia through transport, digital, and energy networks, and simultaneously promote environmental and labor standards.

The EU’s initiative emphasizes sustainability, respect for labor rights, and not creating political or financial dependencies for the countries.

Robust FDI screening process

European nations have been increasingly alarmed due to state-owned Chinese companies acquiring too much control of critical technologies and sensitive infrastructure in the continent, while China shields its own economy.

For the same reason, EU parliament is developing an EU-level screening tool to vet foreign investments on grounds of security to protect strategic sectors and Europe’s interests. The regulation will protect key sectors such as energy, transport, communication, data, space, technology, and finance.

While the EU still remains open to FDI, the regulation will protect its essential interests. Nonetheless, stringent investment screening procedures are likely to limit foreign investments in the continent, particularly from China.

Tackling security threat posed by China

In March 2019, the EU Parliament passed resolution asking European institutions and member countries to take action on security threats arising from China’s rapidly rising technological presence in the continent.

The resolution is likely to impact the ongoing debate of whether to eliminate China’s Huawei Technologies from building European 5G networks. The EU is concerned that the Chinese 5G equipment could be used to access unauthorized data or sabotage critical infrastructure and communication systems in the continent.

To minimize dependence on Chinese technology firms (such as Huawei Technologies), EU countries would need to diversify procurement from different vendors or introduce multi-phase procurement processes.

EU countries expanding footprint to counter China’s reach

Since 2011, China has invested US$ 1.3 billion in concessionary loans and gifts across the Pacific region, and has established its supremacy by becoming the second largest donor. China has been trying to build its influence, as the Pacific is bestowed with vast expanse of resource-rich ocean and the regional countries have voting rights at international forums such as the United Nations.

To counter China’s reach and ambitions across the Pacific countries, European nations such as the UK and France plan to open new embassies, increase staffing levels, and engage with leaders in the region. The UK plans to open new high commissions in Vanuatu, Tonga, and Samoa by the end of May 2019 and France is looking to meet and engage with Pacific leaders during the year.

Investment in Africa to limit China’s influence

As a strategy to curb China’s growing influence, the EU plans to deepen ties with Africa by boosting investment, creating jobs, and strengthening economic relations. The plan is to create 10 million jobs in Africa over the next five years. Europe is also aiming to establish free trade agreement between the two continents.

In recent times, China has been blamed of neo-colonial approach towards Africa, which is aimed at emptying the continent of its raw mineral in exchange for inexpensive loans, extensive but inferior infrastructure, among others. Europe aims to curb such influence by attempting to do business ethically. 

EOS Perspective

Unnerved by flurry of Chinese investments in the continent, the EU is looking to regain its control over matters. Europe has adopted a defensive approach against China’s initiatives, reflected through measures taken to protect critical sectors using investment screening system. The EU understands the downsides of enormous Chinese investments/loans, which may seem hugely enticing in the beginning, but could saddle vulnerable countries in debt they cannot repay – for example, a Chinese-built highway in Montenegro is likely to increase the country’s debt to about 80% of its GDP.

Currently, the key issue is the fact that Europe is standing divided on the right strategy to respond to bolder and ambitious China. While countries such as Germany, France, and UK have grown skeptical of China and are revolting against it, Italy, Hungary, Portugal, Greece, among others, are generally China-friendly. Europe has certainly become stern and tougher on China, but cannot pursue its interests without standing united.

The current situation does not demand Europe opposing China outright, but rather ensuring fair business conditions and equal market access through dialogue and cooperation with China.

Nonetheless, the EU has been quite slow to wake up to the various challenges that excessively ambitious China brings to the table. However, if Europe is able to become united now, there is still a chance to build a decent Sino-European partnership that serves interests of both parties.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Tunisia’s Bruised Tourism Industry Starts to Recover

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The tourism sector of Tunisia has been in turmoil over the past few years. The terrorist attacks on Sousse beach and Bardo National Museum in Tunis in 2015 crippled the industry, which had been witnessing a healthy growth before these events. As the Tunisian government and tourism industry players have been implementing strategies to revive the industry, some progress has been witnessed. However, the damage to the country’s image was grave and it is yet to be seen if the measures being taken will put the industry back on the growth trajectory.

Grave repercussions to the sector

Post Tunisia’s political revolution in 2011, the government started promoting tourism both domestically and internationally, and by 2014, the tourism sector contributed 15.4% to the country’s GDP. However, the terrorist attacks in 2015 in Sousse and Tunis killed nearly 60 foreign tourists (including 30 UK nationals) and significantly tarnished the image of Tunisia as a safe tourist destination.

The concerns over safety, reinforced by travel bans and no-travel recommendations issued by some EU countries, resulted in a drastic fall in the number of overseas tourists arriving in Tunisia. A travel ban issued by the UK authorities was particularly damaging to the local tourism sector, as UK had been the key demand-generating market for Tunisia. Between 2014 and 2017, the number of incoming travelers from the UK declined by 93% to 28,000 and many renowned UK travel companies, including Thomas Cook and TUI, discontinued their services in Tunisia.

The tourism sector had always been crucial for Tunisia’s economy and was one of the country’s key employment sectors, employing over 200,000 people before the attacks. The sudden decline in country’s tourism industry impacted cash inflow, business operations of several tourism industry players, and further destabilized the already faltering economy of the country.

The Recuperating Tourism Sector of Tunisia

Government reaction and first results

After two years of struggle, the Tunisian tourism market started showing first modest signs of recovery in 2017, following measures undertaken by the government to boost tourist footfall in the country. The Ministry of Tourism’s initial steps to help the industry survive included covering of social security contributions for tourism entities such as hotels, resorts, restaurants, etc., by the government, with the intention to help the providers maintain their employees and stay afloat. While this helped reduce the impact, the country still saw a massive loss of jobs in travel and tourism in 2015.

Simultaneously, the government tried to address the most pressing issue directly responsible for the decreased demand for Tunisian tourism services – traveler safety. To make tourists feel safe, the government tightened security around touristic sites, particularly in Sousse and Tunis. Additional surveillance equipment was placed at airports, hotels, and resorts to enhance security, while sector staff and various security forces received training on detecting suspicious behaviors and on counter-terrorism. Over the following years, Tunisia also received help from western countries in raising its security standards and procedures.

While these initiatives were needed and welcome, preventing attacks of this sort in a country located in close proximity to conflict zones, requires massive funding and complete, deep overhaul of its security and counter-terrorism system at all levels. Regardless of whether the steps already taken are sufficient or not to truly ensure safety, they certainly offered greater sense of protection to tourists, a fact promptly and extensively communicated to target customers across British and other European media.

The government of Tunisia has also taken measures to balance out the losses by trying to diversify its demand markets. To attract tourist from outside Europe, visa requirements for countries including China, India, Iran, and Jordan were eased with the introduction of visa on arrival. This strategy helped Tunisia attract Chinese tourists, whose footfall increased 56% y-o-y in January-May 2018 period.

To fuel business travel arrivals, the MoT started granting one-year multi-entry visa to businessmen and investors of these countries as well. Further, the MoT also removed entry visa requirements for countries including Angola, Burkina Faso, Botswana, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Cyprus.

In parallel, the industry realized the need to broaden the sector’s offering. One such initiative was to expand the premium and luxury tourism segment targeting (quite interestingly) particularly British affluent travelers (indicating a continuous bet placed on British customers). In 2017, Four Seasons Hotel Tunis was opened, a major step in putting the country on the luxury tourism map, followed by a few more luxury resorts openings. In several locations premium activities have been developed, including marine spas and golf courses.

Europe’s cautious return to holidays in Tunisia

The measures appeared to have worked, and in 2017, the industry witnessed growth of the number tourists by 23.2% y-o-y to reach 7 million. While the government actions were to some extent successful, it was the lifting of travel ban to Tunisia by EU countries including Belgium, the Netherlands, Poland, and the UK that was the main factor leading to growth.

Recovery was further supported by the return of travel companies such as Thomas Cook and TUI, which resumed operations in Tunisia. Moreover, an air service agreement was signed in late 2017 between the EU and Tunisia to increase the number of direct flights between European countries and Tunisia, which soon led to the return of European airlines including Air Malta and Brussels Airlines on these routes.

All these developments have helped to revive tourism sector and regain European visitors to a certain extent. The number of tourists, particularly, from France and Germany, increased by 45% and 42%, respectively, y-o-y for the period of January-May 2018. This growth in tourist footfall was a great sigh of relief for local industry players, whose businesses have suffered tremendously post attacks.

UK tourist, the most valuable visitor, reluctant to come back

Despite Tunisia’s attempts to diversify its demand markets, the country sees UK as the most important source of tourists for its tourism sector. According to the Tunisian Hotel Association, the market will not fully recover until the British visitors are back in numbers from before the attacks, which will also send a strong message to the world that Tunisia is safe for travel again.

Before the attacks, tourists from the UK formed the bulk of most valuable visitors to Tunisia with high spending capacity, the strongest inclination to spend on high-end accommodation and local cuisines, staying for longer duration in the country, and shopping extensively for locally-made products.

Rebuilding Tunisia’s image in the eyes of British tourists is therefore seen as of great importance. While some British tourists started to return to Tunisia (following tightened safety measures and an extensive publicity thereof) many UK travelers continue to remain wary, and in spite the lift of the travel ban, British arrivals have not reached pre-2015 levels. This reluctance is difficult to break, as UK tourists still do not fully trust that their safety will be ensured, a fear further underpinned by tensions in Tunisia’s neighboring Muslim countries (e.g. Libya).

Some issues remain unresolved

The inability to bring back the UK tourists at levels from before 2015 is still a major problem to the local industry. Although the government undertook several initiatives to improve tourist safety, these steps are likely to be insufficient to prevent such events in the future.

Amidst Tunisia’s frail economic conditions, the availability of sufficient funds to truly and permanently ramp-up security is limited. Moreover, Tunisia must be able to ensure ongoing counter-terrorism abilities as a preventive measure, a task requiring a systematic approach and continuous financing, without dependence on western governments. Considering Tunisia is surrounded by areas prone to continuously produce this sort of danger, ensuring the right intelligence and financing is likely to be a challenge.

Tunisian tourism sector is fighting several battles at the same time, and the blow it received in an aftermath of the attacks had broad repercussions. Various structural issues, which had been present before 2015, still persist. This includes a relatively large share of poor quality accommodation and hotel services, which are not up to par with international standards and expectations of a western tourist, therefore are detrimental to market growth. The 2015 events put several hotel operators under heavy debt and in fight for survival, which pushed upgradation of hotel facilities much lower on their priority list.

There is also a shortage of well-trained hotel and other tourist services staff, which makes it difficult for the Tunisian tourism industry to compete with countries such as Turkey, especially if the substandard service level is paired with outdated and poorer hotel amenities and services. Tunisia does have training centers, however the aftermath of 2015 attacks put the entire sector along with ancillary industries in a standstill, therefore several training center have not been functioning at full capacity. Recovery will take time and it will be a while till a sufficient number of well-trained hotel staff will become available.

EOS Perspective

With tourism playing a pivotal role in Tunisia’s economy, the country found itself in a very difficult position as a result of the attacks. The revival of tourist footfall since the summer of 2017 is definitely encouraging, however the industry is still not out of the woods and needs to continue to work along with the government to ensure the return of the tourists, by addressing the key issues – safety and quality of services.

This should also be a good moment for Tunisia to realize the risks of reviving the industry with the same over-dependence on limited variety of demand markets as before (i.e. UK), and intensify its efforts to diversify target markets across Europe and beyond.

Apart from introducing and maintaining fundamental changes to the safety of the traveler and to what the industry offers, the country needs to revamp the way it markets itself so that it can improve its image and boost tourism. In the past, public authorities and industry players have not paid much attention to promoting the country’s tourism market on social media, relying largely on tour operators and agencies. However, promoting a positive image of the country along with advertising tourist facilities through online channels might help Tunisia reach broader customer segments across markets, e.g. by influencer endorsements (quite a successful approach for Abu Dhabi and Turkey, to name just a few, in the past).

It is also important for Tunisia to look beyond traditional mass-market, organized tourism and explore other avenues of revenue. More focus could be put on promoting cultural tourism as well as access to Sahara Desert – key attraction for people visiting south of Tunisia. Local investors have already started working to develop offers with local cuisines and immersive desert experiences, along with authentic-themed hotels and restaurants.

Tunisia has also made the right (although modest) steps to address the issue of substandard hotel amenities and unclear standard of accommodation that can be expected by tourists. Changes are being made to classification of hotels, as the current star rating system is outdated and based on size and capacity rather than quality of services. Efforts are being made to re-classify hotels in line with international standards. Such reforms are crucial for the industry to ensure higher level of customer satisfaction.

Rebuilding damaged image is always a long and difficult process and Tunisian authorities must do whatever possible to prevent similar attacks in the future. If the public authorities along with the industry players continue to make efforts to pull the country’s tourism market out of the pit, the optimistic expectations about tourist arrivals reaching 12 million by 2028, with a CAGR of 4.6% over 2018-2028, are likely to become reality, bringing back much needed employment and revenue to the economy.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Dual Quality of Food Products Questions EU’s Single Market Strategy

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Several countries in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) allege that some multinational brands and supermarkets’ private-label food products sold in Western Europe are of superior quality than those available under the same brand name and packaging in their home markets. Food producers contend that they often change composition or characteristics of food products in different countries to adapt to local taste preferences. However, this practice has led to resentment among the CEE consumers who feel that food producers deliberately offer inferior quality products in CEE to save on costs. Taking into consideration the results of comparative tests (conducted by few CEE member states) indicating dual quality of food products to be a fact, European Commission has come out in support of countries complaining about double standards of food products. As European Commission is working out an approach to tackle the issue of dual quality of food products, the packaged food industry must prepare for possible impact.

Slovakia, Hungary, Czech Republic, Croatia, Bulgaria, Poland, Slovenia, Estonia, and Romania are among the countries that have voiced their concerns over dual quality of food products. These countries claim that some of the packaged food products sold in their home markets differ in composition and ingredients when compared to same brands’ food products sold in western markets, for instance, some products contain lower quality of the primary ingredient (e.g. less fish in fish fingers) or contain ingredients considered as less healthy (e.g. sweeteners instead of sugar in beverages). Some countries also complain about the difference in sensory characteristics such as taste, texture, or color.

Investigations by national institutions of few CEE countries revealed that, despite being marketed under identical packaging, many packaged food products differ in composition and characteristics across European Union (EU) member states. In many cases, food products available in CEE markets were less healthy as compared to same brand products available in western markets such as Austria, France, or Germany. In 2015, the Prague University of Chemistry and Technology tested 23 products marketed under the same brand name in Czech Republic and Germany and uncovered differences in eight products. Slovak Agriculture Ministry and the State Veterinary and Food Administration (ŠVPS) conducted a similar study in 2016 and found discrepancies in nearly 50% of the products tested. In 2017, NEBIH, Hungary’s food safety authority, compared 96 products in Hungary, Austria, and Italy. The study included multinational brands, supermarkets brands, as well as some products with similar composition but not the same brand. While 25 of these products were found to be identical, 8 products were different in composition and 30 products exhibited difference in sensory characteristics, whereas 33 products indicated differences in both.

Multinational companies contend that this is a common business practice to change the composition of the branded products as per the local preferences and demand, difference in purchasing power, local sourcing requirements, variation in production lines, etc. EU legislation requires companies to properly label ingredients, but it does not mandate sale of the same recipe under the same brand name across the EU markets. However, it is difficult for consumers to identify the difference in quality of products based solely on information presented on the label. Consumers generally expect that products of the same brands with identical packaging and appearance are the same and thus the purchase decision is often based on brand image and reputation.

The frustration and dissatisfaction is building up among consumers in these markets as they feel as if they are being unfairly treated as second-class consumers. The dual food quality issue has now come under the political radar as the concerned countries have joined forces compelling the European Commission to take necessary actions to eliminate double standards in the quality of food products sold across EU.

EU-Dual Quality of Food Products

After years of perseverant diplomatic efforts, in 2017, European Commission finally acknowledged the issue of dual quality in food products and pledged necessary action against such practices as they may lead to single market fragmentation. In September 2017, the European Commission offered a grant of EUR 1 million (~US$1.2 million) to the Joint Research Centre (European Commission’s science and knowledge service) to develop a common methodology which can be used across the EU market for comparison of products. Additional EUR 1 million (~US$1.2 million) will be offered to member states for conducting further tests and to take actions to ensure compliance.

Alongside, European Commission also released guidelines highlighting application of the existing EU food and consumer protection legislation to determine whether a brand is acting in breach of these laws when selling products of dual quality in different countries. Unfair Commercial Practices Directive (UCPD) prohibit “a misleading commercial practice if in any way it deceives or is likely to deceive the average consumer, even if the information is factually correct, in relation to the main characteristics of the product”. National authorities are directed to determine on case-by-case basis whether consumers would still buy a product of a particular brand if they were aware that its main characteristics differ from those of the product sold under the same brand name and packaging in most EU member states – if they would not, then the company can be considered acting in violation of UCPD (though such a determination will undoubtedly be challenging with regards to maintaining objectivity and common fixed criteria). European Commission, along with the help of industry stakeholders, is also preparing a new code of conduct that will include standards to improve transparency and thereby avoiding the dual quality issue.

EOS Perspective

Dual quality of food products has been proven to be a fact and is perceived as an unfair distortion of EU single market. European Commission advocates to strengthen enforcement of existing consumer protection laws, however, some of the EU member states’ representatives are demanding legislative amendments as they believe that the current laws are inadequate to tackle the issue of dual food quality. CEE countries demand that the multinational brands must standardize their food products across the EU market to put an end to the discriminatory practice. However, this would require revision of EU food legislation, a proposal relished by neither the European Commission nor the industry.

In May 2017, Hungary submitted a draft legislation to European Commission to introduce a labelling obligation to include distinctive warning on dual quality food products. However, food law experts contest that such an obligation will restrict the food producers to distribute their products freely in Hungary, unless they bear an additional cost for labelling. This conflicts with article 34 of EU’s treaty that guarantees free circulation of goods within EU. However, if a similar proposal is considered for EU, it would force the food producers to include a warning on the labels, and this could be perceived as a mark of a potentially negative marketing.

It is about time that multinational brands offering dual quality products acknowledge the intensity of the allegations. Companies must prepare an acceptable justification for the difference in quality of their products, more specifically, if their products in certain markets are of inferior quality. Companies may consider reformulating their products in CEE markets to standardize their product offering across the EU bloc. For instance, in September 2017, HiPPs, a German baby food producer, announced that it would reformulate one of its Croatia-sold products to match with the German recipe.

Rebranding is another option that the companies could explore. Products with significant difference in composition could be launched under a new brand name exclusively for that local market. Companies for whom rebranding and reformulating is not deemed feasible, should consider relabeling and repackaging their products to clearly differentiate the products across markets. For instance, Tulip is considering changing the packaging of canned luncheon meat in the Czech Republic to differentiate it from the similar product available in Germany. An unquestionable fact here is that whichever approach companies take to address the dual quality issue, it will result in additional costs, which might affect the products’ prices and make them less accessible, especially for consumers from low-income sections of the CEE population.

For the multinational brands offering identical products across EU, the dual quality issue can be seen as an opportunity. Such companies could consider multilingual labelling informing consumers that same product is sold across markets, and this approach would also help standardize the packaging and labelling across the region. Further, these companies could also benefit from a positive PR and marketing campaigns to reinforce the fact that they consider all their customers equal across EU single market.

Packaged food producers who have presence only in Western Europe are presented with a unique opportunity to expand in CEE markets. As the general perception in CEE is that packaged food products made in western EU countries are often of superior quality, the western-recipe version of a given product may be well received by the CEE consumer.

Local e-tailers as well as retailers in border cities can also be at gain. For instance, Czech e-tailers such as Rohlik.cz and Košík.cz have added special sections on their websites offering German products; likewise, supermarkets in German towns such as Altenberg and Heidenau have put up sign in two languages, due to increasing footfall from Czech cities across the border.

As the debate on dual quality of food products is gaining heat, multinational brands such as HiPPs and Tulip are already considering changing product composition or packaging to reflect the differentiation of their products across member states. Though food producers are not required to offer standard products across the EU countries, they will need to justify the difference in their products, and failure to do so may lead to legal action. The recent guidelines announced by European Commission are more of a soft warning to food producers. If the issue remains unresolved, then European Commission may consider more extreme measures. European Commission warned that if the situation does not improve, it will make the name of brands that are involved in the practice of dual quality publicly available. This might severely impact the brand image of these multinational brands in consumer’s view. Revision of packaging and labelling law is also one of the recommended alternatives that might be explored as a last resort.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

EU-Mercosur FTA: Old Negotiations, New Zest

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The EU and Mercosur (a trade bloc comprising Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay*) free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations date back almost two decades, to 1999. After failing to seal the deal in 1999 and again in 2004, the countries initiated new negotiations in 2010 and though started out slowly, they accelerated the process in 2016 (with hopes to finalize the deal by the end of 2017). A trade deal at this moment will be of significant importance to both sides owing to substantial amount of trade between the two blocs. The EU is Mercosur’s largest trading partner accounting for 21% of the bloc’s trade in 2015, while Brazil alone is the EU’s eleventh largest trading partner. However, despite a positive framework for the agreement to happen, there is still a great deal of resistance from few EU countries regarding the opening up of their agriculture sectors. Now it remains to see whether the two blocs can reach the much needed compromises and end up with an agreement by the end of the year or talks will remain hanging once more.
*Venezuela has been suspended from the trade bloc in 2016 and therefore is out of the negotiations

While this may not be the first time the EU and Mercosur sit to negotiate the terms of an FTA, it definitely seems to be the most promising one. The main reason the earlier efforts have gone in vain was the Argentinian leftist government’s adverse stance on trading outside their own backyard. This changed with the election of president Mauricio Macri in December 2015, who unlike his predecessor (Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner), looks at international trade as a growth opportunity for Argentina. Similarly, the impeachment of the Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff in May 2016 resulted in a new political wave in Brazil. While Brazil’s former president did take small steps towards trade liberalization, her successor, Michel Temer, has accelerated this process and has made the EU-Mercosur deal one of his top priorities.

Another reason this deal has gained immense importance for the Latin American bloc has been a declining bilateral trade among Mercosur’s two largest members, Argentina and Brazil, owing to recession. Trade between the countries declined from US$36 billion to US$22 billion during 2013-2016. This has forced the two nations to soften their stance on global trade.

Considering these developments, as well as the changing political and trade dynamics between several Latin American countries and the USA, following the arrival of Trumps administration at the White House, Mercosur’s openness and renewed interest in strengthening international trade ties is fully understandable. We wrote about it in February 2017 in our article Trump in Action: Triumph or Tremor for Latin America? and again later in June 2017 in Japan Hopes to Get a Slice of Mercosur Opportunity Cake as LATAM Exports to USA Decline.

On the other side of the negotiations table, as the EU has maintained a positive outlook towards foreign trade in general, the lost prospect of a Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the USA under Donald Trump has also reinvigorated EU’s interest in the Mercosur FTA. Moreover, the EU views the deal with Mercosur as a suitable counter-measure to the growing Chinese influence in Latin America.

Apart from these aspects, the main reason for renewed commitment to the deal by both sides is the significant and increasing level of trade and investment between the two blocs. In 2014, EU’s investments in Mercosur countries reached US$494 billion. The EU’s exports to Mercosur expanded from about US$24.6 billion (€21 billion) in 2005 to about US$54 billion (€46 billion) in 2015. Similarly for Mercosur, its exports to the EU increased from US$37.5 billion (€32 billion) to US$49 billion (€42 billion) during the same period. Agriculture products constituted 48% of Mercosur’s exports to the EU, while machinery (29% of exports) and vehicle and parts (17% of exports) were EU’s largest export categories to the Latin American bloc.

The EU stands to gain a great deal from the FTA. As per current calculations, EU exporters would save about US$5.2 billion (€4.4 billion) annually on trade tariffs and stand to double their exports within five years of reaching a deal.

Despite hefty trade benefits and a lot of political and economic factors being in favor of the deal, agriculture remains a sore point. Several EU countries, led by France, do not want to open up their agriculture sector to Mercosur’s exports as they feel their domestic produce (especially grains and meat) cannot compete with that of Brazil and Argentina in terms of price. In addition, they are concerned that Mercosur’s agricultural produce are not subject to the same health standards as their domestic produce.

A quick glance at the average production costs indicates that the EU farmers have a reason to worry. As per estimates, if the deal comes through, the amount of maize available in Brazil and Argentina for export by 2020 will be between 23 and 26 million tonnes. While the average production cost of cereal in Mercosur is close to US$94/ tonne (€80/tonne), it is about US$141/tonne (€120/tonne) in the EU. This is likely to result in substitution of EU-grown maize with that from Mercosur, which will most likely result in a loss of about US$2.3 billion (€2 billion) by 2020 for EU’s agriculture sector. In addition, it can be expected to result in an indirect loss of about US$1.2-3.5 billion (€1-3 billion) as Mercosur-produced maize is likely to also replace wheat for animal feed during high production and harvest months.

In case of meat products, beef produced in Mercosur is more competitive than EU’s beef in terms of pricing. Moreover, a study of the usual trend of beef quotas suggest that they are first filled with noble cuts exports (including filet, entrecote, and rump steak) followed by other hindquarter cuts (such as topside and silverside). In case the deal takes place, it is expected that Mercosur’s beef will largely substitute local beef produce with Mercosur’s export volume (keeping in mind higher quantities of noble cuts, such as Hilton beef) expecting to reach 1 million tonnes. These would be worth US$18.8 billion (€16 billion) and would directly impact the local production and sales value. To bring this into perspective, the value of Brazil’s beef exports (the largest beef exporter among the Mercosur countries) to the EU was US$485 million in 2016. Moreover, low-priced imports from Mercosur will put pressure on the pricing in the domestic EU market resulting in close to a 30% downward price revision, which in turn is highly likely to result in further losses of about US$10.6 billion (€9 billion). In case the EU agreed to 300,000 tonnes at zero duty, this would expectedly result in US$3.5 billion (€3 billion) in direct costs and US$7.1 billion in indirect costs (€6 billion).

In addition to this, there are several non-tariff related issues with Mercosur’s produce, such as lack of tagging and traceability of livestock to identify and guarantee origin. Also, several drugs, such as hormones and growth promoters, as well as few antibiotics and insecticides that are banned in the EU are legally used in Mercosur. These factors have resulted in countries such as France, Ireland, and Poland opposing the EU-Mercosur FTA.

Another source of disagreement for the EU lies in the trade of sugar and ethanol, which the European producers claim should be excluded from the list of freely-traded items. This stems primarily from the fact that the Brazilian government provides subsidies worth US$1.8 billion annually to its ethanol and sugar producers, a fact providing them with an undue advantage compared to the European counterparts.

On the other hand, Mercosur is discontent with EU’s limited concessions on agricultural imports and its stance to continue quotas on the Mercosur’s food imports. Mercosur also has some concerns regarding providing the EU with access to public tenders, which in Brazil alone are worth about US$176 billion (€150 billion), however, they are positive that they will be able to reach a consensus during negotiations.

While few points of contention remain, negotiators at both ends are keen on resolving these issues and signing the deal by the end of 2017, remaining aware of the significance of this deal for both the sides as well as of the tendency for these talks to remain unresolved if not pushed soon. Moreover, both sides want to exploit the current favorable political scenario in Brazil and Argentina. With Brazil heading for presidential elections in 2018, the chances of a leftist-government coming to power do exist, and this can again put the deal in danger if it is not completed by then. Both sides of the negotiating table want to reach an agreement sought-after for the past 20 years as early as possible, even if it means compromising on some expectations.

EU Mercosur FTA Old Negotiations New Zest

EOS Perspective

A goal of completing the deal by the end of 2017 seems like quite a gun to the heads of both the blocs, as past experience, both in the case of this deal as well as other FTAs, proves that the process is never quick nor simple. Moreover, the EU seems somewhat divided on the deal, with Spain, Portugal, and Germany advocating for it and France, Poland, and Ireland opposing it. That being said, this deal – which has been on and off again and again since 1999 – has never been as close to getting finalized as it is now. This is primarily due to the fact that both Argentina and Brazil (that were the two main factors holding the deal back all these years) are extremely keen on reaching this agreement with EU, to the extent that they may be willing to compromise quite a bit as long as the deal includes provisions that leave room for future improvements and it brings increase in trade and thus growth for local economies. However, it remains to be seen whether they will be willing to stretch their compromises far enough to agree to the EU’s terms on the agriculture produce trade. At the same time, it is not clear how much the EU is going to push for these provisions, so there is a chance that both parties will manage to reach a well-rounded deal for both the sides. The least probable scenario is that the deal will come to a stand-still once more, however till the ink dries on the deal, nothing can be considered as certain.

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