What’s Ahead for the International Hemp Sector: A 2023 Preview

December 14, 2022

Stakeholders involved in the establishment of an international hemp association this year say that the new organization could lead to rapid and dramatic changes for the global hemp industry in 2023 and beyond. Last month, the Federation of International Hemp Organizations (FIHO) held its first annual General Meeting in Canada, where it elected its founding board of directors. FIHO was created from a working group of 20 global hemp organizations that joined forces in 2020.

According to a FIHO press release, the federation’s goals are wide-ranging. “The mandate of the new FIHO is to: unite industry leaders; consolidate market expertise; coordinate resources; and, speak with one voice on hemp issues at the global level.” The organization also plans to “identify and create opportunities” for the hemp industry, while helping stakeholders to scale up industrial hemp production, marketing, and trade.

The Need for a Uniform International Regulatory Landscape

According to Lorenza Romanese, Managing Director at the European Industrial Hemp Association (EIHA), if the global hemp industry is to develop, grow and thrive, a consistent international legal landscape is necessary in 2023 and beyond. “We need a harmonized and stable regulatory framework to allow companies to plan ahead their businesses,” and, “we need more political support,” she said in an email to Hemp Benchmarks. “[A]t the end it seems clear to me that hemp can be part of the solution to transit towards a cleaner future, why not [support] it? That is why we also created FIHO.”

Lorenzo Rolim da Silva is President of the Latin American Industrial Hemp Association (LAIHA). He is also FIHO’s new Communication and Engagement Chair. Like EIHA’s Romanese, he believes one the most pressing issues for the international hemp sector is ongoing regulatory uncertainty. “There are still many differences and discrepancies between the regulations regarding hemp between countries and economic blocs around the world,” he told Hemp Benchmarks, “plus, there are still major agricultural economies being left out of the game, like my country, Brazil.” 

Rolim is also looking to the United Nations for more clarity and “direct instructions” regarding countries, banks, and international trade organizations involved with the hemp sector, in order to establish the needed tax codes for hemp and hemp products as part of an effort to normalize international trade.

The Shift Towards Hemp Fiber and Grain

As we have been reporting this year, it appears the hemp cannabinoid market has plateaued in many parts of the world, with a new and growing focus by cultivators, processors, and a wide variety of manufacturers towards industrial hemp fiber and grain. Rolim agreed that there is a rising demand internationally for fiber and grain. Both hemp fiber and grain, he said, “seem to be one major player adoption away to have a massive breakthrough. I mean, the moment some Nestlé or Coca-Cola decides to use hemp for something, it’s going to skyrocket.”

Romanese concurred that global demand for fiber and seed are growing, and sometimes outstripping available stocks. However, she added, the hemp sector needs to attract more investment if it is to expand its markets. “Hemp can really fit in hundreds of value chains,” she said, “from sustainable protein, to bio-based materials, it can help corporations switching to greener products without sacrificing the quality. The investments needed for the scaling up of the production are relatively small, and can have a great social and economic impact on the local economic tissue.”

EIHA, she continued, has been encouraging more interactions between hemp stakeholders and potential investors. “We help [to foster] knowledge and contacts, the two key enabling elements for the development of a structured and strong value chain,” she said. “At the same time, we keep on working on establishing a positive legislative environment at the EU level that benefits the bioeconomy and sustainable agriculture.”

Removing the Cannabis Stigma

Despite its proven versatility as a commodity, industrial hemp still faces regulatory obstacles in a variety of countries. In the United Kingdom, for example, hemp is technically legal, but still classified as a controlled substance

EIHA’s Romanese noted that the stigma associated with hemp remains an issue, “but we are working on it!” The distinction between intoxicating cannabis and non-intoxicating hemp, she continued, “is indeed not to be found in science, but in laws, regulations, production, and use. Science nevertheless guides regulations; but it cannot establish a general – and universally applicable – boundary between the two types.” The establishment of FIHO, she added, “will certainly contribute to this clarification.”

In support of efforts toward regulatory clarity, the EIHA’s Romanese said the new year should bring with it some interesting hemp research data. “2023 will be the year in which we will conclude most of the toxicological studies on CBD … that we launched in 2021,” she noted. “We will be able to compare the results, to evaluate the discrepancies and to feed authorities with fresh data. Also, 2023 will be the year in which we finally launch the biggest THC clinical trial ever done, it will be composed by 400 healthy consumers.”

Rolim, meanwhile, stressed the need for continuing education to ensure that lawmakers, corporations, and consumers all understand that hemp is not intoxicating cannabis. “When I first started educating people about hemp way back in 2015, my first argument was to point out the differences between hemp and overall cannabis,” he said. “This is still my main point today, showing that we developed very little in terms of broad audience education. FIHO will address this at a global level and work towards a clear and concise difference that must be accepted by most countries globally.”

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