Commodity Conversations Weekly Press Summary

European and UK negotiators have reportedly made some progress on reaching a free trade agreement although EU officials note that some open issues still need to be addressed, such as fisheries and state aid. The UK has set a deadline of October 15 to reach an agreement and the Prime Minister said he was open to a deal in line with what Australia has with the EU. However, commentators pointed out that there was no trade deal between Australia and the EU, while Australia has been looking to sign a full trade agreement with the block for years.

The UK did report a trade win this week as the country exported its first shipment of beef to the US in 20 years. The US banned imports in 1996 following issues with the mad cow disease but ruled that safety standards were acceptable again in March this year. The UK government estimates that this could generate USD 85 million annually over the next five years. This remains only a small victory, however, as the UK could lose USD 174 billion every year for 10 years with the combined impact of a no-deal Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic, according to Baker McKenzie. 

Food imports into Iran might become even more difficult if the US moves ahead with a plan to extend its sanctions and cut the country off from the global financial system. Essential goods should be exempt from the sanctions, in theory, but banks are reluctant to facilitate deals because of the fear of facing penalties. Besides, EU and Swiss efforts to set up alternative payment channels have only had limited success. Iran has been focusing on trade with the UAE and China in the meantime. 

As countries look to negotiate new trade agreements, industry members are busy trying to reduce the environmental impact of transporting commodities by ship. Sea Cargo Charter was launched by a coalition of 17 companies, including ADM, Bunge, Cargill, COFCO and Louis Dreyfus. The group set up a standard to transparently report shipping emissions to help meet greenhouse gas targets. In the same vein, Cargill will let its customers access CocoaWise, a portal set up to centralise the sustainability data of the cocoa supply chain. The solution includes a map with details on 128 cooperative offices in Cote d’Ivoire, 7 buying stations in Ghana and 11 stations in Cameroon.

Campaigners submitted a petition with 300,000 signatures urging Nestle to reconsider its decision to stop using Fairtrade cocoa and sugar in its Kit Kat bars. In response, Nestle highlighted that they are now sourcing Rainforest Alliance certified cocoa instead. They also argued that, along with its own Nestle Cocoa Plan, they are now in a better position to help improve the livelihoods of farmers. 

In the plant-based food world, oat milk just overtook soy milk to become the second most popular non-dairy milk. Oat milk has been gaining in popularity because of the low amount of water it needs to grow and the high protein and fiber content but almond milk remains the most popular in part thanks to its health advantages: it is low in calories, fat and carbohydrates.

Shoppers might be seeing a lot more plant-based products on sale following pledges by Tesco and Asda to boost sales. Tesco partnered with the WWF to increase sales of plant-based meat by 300% by 2025, while Asda is launching 104 new plant-based products. The move was not welcomed by the head of the National Sheep Association, however. He highlighted that it was based on an incorrect assumption, as meat can, and often is, produced in a sustainable way, while plant-based products are often mass-produced, highly industrialised and highly packaged.

Other experts are also questioning whether overselling the potential benefits of agricultural practices can actually undermine the fight against climate change. Environmentalists have recently been eagerly promoting the idea of regenerative agriculture to sequester the carbon in the atmosphere into the soil. But some proponents argue that the practice could actually absorb all of the carbon we currently emit. Such a claim is not only baseless, some experts say, but can also overpromise and simplify a complex problem that will require a whole suite of changes to solve. 

Talking of smart technological solutions to fight climate change, farmers found two clever ways to use agricultural products in surprising places this week. The first is in the Netherlands where researchers made bitumen – usually produced from fossil fuels – using lignin. And in the UK, the largest dairy cooperative, Arla, started converting some cow manure into methane and biofuels to power its trucks. 

This summary was produced by ECRUU

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