Russian Trade Ban, Other Trade Issues Discussed at EU Agriculture Council

EU - The 3337th Council meeting Agriculture and Fisheries Council meeting held in Luxembourg earlier this week under the presidency of Maurizio Martina, Minister for Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policy discussed the Europe 2020 strategy, international trade issues, African swine fever and the Russian ban on agricultural products.
calendar icon 16 October 2014
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Main Results of the Council on Agriculture

The Council discussed the impact and implications of the Russian ban on imports of EU agricultural products. Most of the member states recognised the appropriateness of the emergency market measures on fruit and vegetables and the milk sector decided by the Commission. However, in the milk sector some of the most affected countries called for additional measures to mitigate the significant fall in prices observed in their market.

The Council also:

  • held an exchange of views on the situation of African swine fever (ASF) in the EU
  • held a debate on the main elements of the contribution of the agricultural sector to the mid-term review of the Europe 2020 strategy.

Ministers were also briefed on international agricultural trade issues.

The Council adopted a regulation on promotion measures for agricultural products following a first reading agreement with the European Parliament. This regulation renews the legal framework for the promotion of EU agricultural products on the internal market and in third countries in the context of the very competitive environment the EU faces today.

Council President, Maurizio Martina, noted: "With the adoption of the new legal framework regarding information and promotion actions for agricultural products in the internal market and third countries, I believe that we have achieved the goal of improving the competitiveness of agriculture in the EU so as to achieve greater equity."

Europe 2020 Strategy: Contribution of Agriculture

The Council held a political debate on the contribution of the agricultural sector to the mid-term review of the Europe 2020 strategy (13836/14).

While many ministers think that the Europe 2020 strategy has made a difference and has been implemented effectively, they nevertheless acknowledged that some of its targets, such as employment, research and development, and poverty reduction were not fully met.

A specific focus should be put on those issues in the coming years. Several delegations underscored that the recommendations prepared at EU level should offer more flexibility for member states to implement measures according to their specific national situation.

Most of the ministers highlighted the importance of agriculture and agro-food in contributing to the European 2020 strategy. Many noted that the recently reformed common agricultural policy (CAP) offers a framework in line with the targets set by the Europe 2020 strategy. Time should be given to allow the new measures to be implemented and the contribution of the new CAP to the strategy should be assessed later. The programme European Partnership for Innovation promoting research in agriculture was frequently mentioned as an example.

The new CAP, in particular through rural development measures, has now the opportunity to contribute to achieve Europe 2020 target with regard to employment through actions aiming at maintaining jobs in rural areas and improving the attractiveness of those areas, more specifically for young people.

The Presidency will convey the outcome of the ministers' discussion to the General Affairs Council in December so that it can prepare the December European Council.

Europe 2020 is the EU’s 10-year growth and jobs strategy that was launched in 2010 to try to overcome the economic crisis of the European economies. Europe 2020 is intended to address the shortcomings of the European growth model and create the conditions for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.

Five headline targets have been set for the EU to achieve by the end of 2020. These cover employment, research and development, climate/energy, education, and social inclusion and poverty reduction. The objectives of the strategy are also supported by seven "flagship initiatives" providing a framework through which the EU and national authorities mutually reinforce their efforts in areas supporting the Europe 2020 priorities, such as innovation, the digital economy, employment, youth, industrial policy, poverty, and resource efficiency.

Other EU levers, such as the European single market, the EU budget and the EU external agenda also contribute to achieving the goals of the Europe 2020 strategy. The Europe 2020 strategy is implemented and monitored as part of the European Semester, the yearly cycle of coordination of economic and budgetary policies.

In March 2014, the Commission published a Communication taking stock of the Europe 2020 strategy, four years after its launch. In May 2014, a public consultation feeding into the mid-term review of the Europe 2020 strategy was launched and is open until 31 October 2014.

International Agricultural Trade Issues

Ministers were briefed by the Commission on the state of play on international agricultural trade issues.

On the WTO post-Bali agenda, the aim is to finalise the post-Bali work programme by the end of the year, but due to India's refusal to approve the protocol on trade facilitation, the work is now delayed. The WTO General Council's next meeting is on 21 October where the discussion will continue on how to resolve the deadlock.

The EU and Canada finalised the mutual Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) at the end of September.

Concerning the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations, the 7th round of negotiations was concluded on 3 October 2014. Despite the progress on this round, there is still work to be done. The scheduling for the next round is unclear, due to challenges at the political and public levels on both sides.

Many Council members pointed out the need for balanced international agreements with regard to agriculture. Several ministers noted that negotiations should focus on the removal of non-tariff barriers. In addition they considered that issues such as the protection of geographical indications, food safety and animal welfare standards constituted decisive elements which characterised the specificity of EU agriculture. Some member states recalled the importance of international trade negotiations in order to find alternative markets for EU agricultural products following the introduction of the Russian ban.

African Swine Fever

The Council held an exchange of views on the situation of African swine fever (ASF) in the EU.

Several ministers highlighted the risk of a further spread of the disease in the EU. Therefore, they supported the member states directly affected by the disease which requested that the Commission:

  • coordinate the EU's veterinary and sanitary measures to eradicate and prevent the spread of ASF to territories in the EU which are not yet affected
  • ensure that the participation of the EU can cover most of the costs for the prevention, control and eradication of the disease within the EU financial contribution framework, including the costs of sampling and laboratory testing
  • explore the possibility of refunding the costs of the veterinary and sanitary measures applied in order to eradicate ASF outbreaks, e.g. killing and destruction of pigs, feed, feed additives, feed materials, medicines, disinfection, etc.

The Commission confirmed that the conditions had been met for the EU to contribute at a rate of 75 per cent for veterinary measures in the member states directly affected by the disease, and showed openness on additional new measures.

ASF is a serious pig disease with severe economic consequences. It was first detected in the EU in Lithuania at the beginning of 2014. Despite the stringent veterinary and sanitary measures adopted to control it, the disease has spread further to Poland, Latvia and Estonia, causing heavy losses for farmers and operators involved in trade in pigs and pig products. The disease seems to have been introduced from the Russian Federation and possibly Belarus, where it has been present for years, and where the relevant sanitary authorities have not managed to eradicate it or prevent further spread.

Russian Ban on EU Agricultural Products

Ministers discussed the impact and implications of the Russian ban on imports of EU agricultural products in place since early August this year. This follows the discussion that took place during the extraordinary Agriculture Council organised on 5 September by the Italian Presidency.

In this regard, at the request of the Polish delegation, the Council discussed the possibility of additional measures for supporting the milk market affected by the Russian ban on EU agricultural products. Poland considers that measures such as the introduction of exports refunds and the increase of intervention prices could mitigate the price fall observed on the milk market of the member states most affected by the ban.

Estonia, Finland, Latvia and Lithuania called for direct support measures for their dairy farmers who faced drastic fall in milk prices following the Russian ban. Most ministers acknowledged the need for EU solidarity towards the most affected member states as regards the dairy sector and the Commission showed its readiness to consider such direct support. However, some ministers asked for more information on the targeted compensations envisaged by the Commission. Others insisted on a number of conditions to be met and/or other pointed to the financial difficulties linked to possible new measures. The discussion on possible targeted compensations for dairy producers in the Baltic States and Finland will continue on the basis of more detailed information to be given by the Commission.

Some member states also pointed out that the emergency measures to support the fruit and vegetables sector decided soon after the Russian ban were unsufficient to alleviate the severe difficulties met by their producers.

On 7 August, the Russian Federation introduced a one-year import ban on a number of agricultural products, raw materials and foodstuffs originating from the European Union as a countermeasure to sanctions imposed on Russia because of the situation in Ukraine. The list of banned products was slightly modified on 20 August. It includes meat, fish and crustaceans, milk and dairy products, fruit and vegetables, sausages and food or finished products. In August and September, the Commission took emergency measures for fruit and vegetables. Market measures were also adopted for the milk sector in early September.

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