EghtesadOnline: The "Iran-EU Seminar on Development of Agrifood Trade, Standards and Agricultural Cooperation" was held in Tehran for eliminating agrifood trade barriers and becoming familiar with each other’s safety and quality standards as well as agricultural and food production processes and capacities.
A high-ranking 37-member delegation from the European Union active in the agriculture sector attended the event, which was held on November 19-20, together with officials from Iran’s Agriculture Ministry and members of Majlis Agricultural Commission.
Director of International Affairs with the European Commission’s Directorate General of Agriculture and Rural Development John Clarke said the European Union is hopeful about agrifood trade with Iran provided Iranian producers abide by EU standards in the field, Fars News Agency reported.
“We are willing to import agricultural products, especially trout, raisins, organic lamb, sheep meat and medicinal plants. We hope to sign respective agreements,” Financial Tribune quoted him as saying.
Clarke noted that the EU has issued permits for horse imports from Iran and antibiotic-free lamb and beef exports in return.
The EU and Iran, said the official, have been engaged in agricultural activities since 6,000 years and are now facing common problems such as climate change and aging farmers. He added that the two sides need to help each other out in overcoming these challenges, ILNA reported.
Ali Akbar Mehrfard, deputy agriculture minister for expansion of commercial and processing industries, said the visit of European delegation within two weeks of the reimposition of unilateral US sanctions against Iran indicates the EU’s determination to expand agrifood trade and cooperation with Iran.
“Iran-EU agrifood trade amounts to between $2.5-3 billion per year, which is meager. We are in talks with our partners from the EU to reduce import and export tariffs on some commodities. Iran has a vast capacity for exports to Europe. We have negotiated the exports of Iranian shrimps, trout, dates, dairy products, nuts, saffron and pistachio,” he was quoted as saying by IRNA.
The deputy minister noted that Iran plans to standardize agrifood products, reduce pollutants and pesticide remnants, track agricultural products down to the consumption stage and expand organic farming. He said a memoranda of understanding and contracts to make these happen will be signed with the European Union.
Mehrfard added that through these collaborations, the Iranians will know how to package and export their products to meet consumer tastes in European countries.
“We hope to be able to do away with difficulties sanctions have caused us in providing pesticides and agro machinery, supplements and stabilizers, additives to livestock, poultry and fish feed and the transfer of high-tech seed production knowhow with the help of EU," he said.
"We also seek EU’s assistance in completing our agro production chains. These chains are not connected to each other in some parts of Iran’s agro economy and this defect has to be rectified in national and regional scales.”
According to Mehrfard, Iran produces around 122 million tons of agricultural products worth nearly $75 billion every year.
Between 15 million and 16 million of this sum are meat, eggs and dairy products, 22 million tons are orchard crops, 2 million tons are seafood and the remaining 82 million tons are filed crops.
“Our imports [of agricultural products] stand at around $10 billion, while exports amount to $6 billion per annum. We have close to 20,000 processing units with a nominal capacity of 150 million tons. This means these units are working below their full capacity,” he said.
The official noted that increasing greenhouses, boosting vegetable production, using suitable seeds and employing methods wherein saplings are planted rather than seeds are among Iran’s agricultural priorities.
“Water shortage is a major problem facing the country. Since the beginning of President Hassan Rouhani’s first term in 2013 up until now, the government has spent $8 billion on implementing water efficiency methods and installing modern irrigation systems," he said.
"We have surplus production in agro commodities such as fruit, vegetables, chicken, eggs, dairy and seafood, yet face a deficit in some other essential goods such as corn, soybean, soy meal and raw vegetable oils. Due to water shortage, there is no such plan to expand water-intensive crops like corn, and will therefore, remain an importer.”
Mehrfard concluded that Iran-EU agro cooperation is important and can help provide not only for the 80 million population of Iran but for the 300-million market surrounding the country.