Grape producers toast results of planting rights talks

  

A coalition of grape growers, farm groups and major wine-producing countries appear to have won concessions to European Commission proposals for liberalising vine planting rights that are due to expire by 2016.

Recommendations agreed by a special advisory group  follow nine months of discussions on the fate of the EU’s common market organisation, or CMO, that for years has allowed government intervention to prevent a glut of grapes grown for wine.

The compromise deal announced on 14 December would postpone the liberalisation of planting for up to six years. The panel also called for giving national authorities flexibility in authorising new vine plantings for all wine categories so long as they are within an agreed EU-wide limit that still must be determined.

Riccardo Ricci Curbastro, who heads the European Federation of Origin Wines, said the proposal "will not only support and reinforce the sustainable development of our sector in terms of market potential, but furthermore it will maintain fair competition between member states.”

Thierry Coste, who chairs the wine working group of Copa-Cogeca, which represents European farmers and agricultural cooperatives, called the recommendations “an improvement on the political decision to phase out planting rights in the wine sector made in 2008.”

The recommendations of the working group, which was organised by Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Cioloş, must still be approved by the Parliament and national governments in the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy.

CAP proposals beyond 2013 are on hold pending approval of the EU’s long-term budget, of which agriculture and rural development have traditionally comprised more than one-third of EU spending.

Backed by governments in 15 major wine-producing countries – including France, Italy, Portugal and Spain – grape growers have pressed the Parliament to reverse a four-year-old decision to lift restrictions which limit how many vines can be planted.

Jobs and rural landscapes

Agricultural organisations say ending planting restrictions could further weaken a sector that is already battling cheap imports, overproduction and declining demand for a glass of wine. Land under cultivation in the EU fell 12% from 2001 to 2011, International Organisation of Vine and Wine figures show.

Supporters of the planting restrictions also say that vineyards have add-on effects that are good for the economy and ecology – namely tourism and rural preservation.

Vineyards are among the last areas of farming left to be liberalised after years of Commission efforts to erase protections for dairy and other farm products. The end of the planting restrictions stems from reforms in 2008 that also phased out sugar price supports.

But support for extending planting rights is far from universal. Vintners in emerging wine producing countries want room for expansion. The bottling and distribution industries believe the restrictions are an anachronism in an increasingly competitive global wine market, and see as counterproductive the wasteful practice of ‘grubbing up,’ or paying growers to get out of the wine business.

José Ramón Fernández, secretary-general of the Comité Européen des Entreprises Vins (CEEV), told EurActiv in September that the EU-wide restrictions hurt the wine sector’s competitiveness. “You don’t have any such limitation on any other sector in agriculture in Europe – it is exceptional and extraordinary,” said Fernández.

The Commission’s original justification for liberalisation blames surplus wine production in part on violations of the planting limits and claims that lifting restrictions would “permit competitive producers to respond freely to market conditions.”

The EU needs to end limits at some point – whether it is 2016 or beyond - under a European Court of Justice ruling saying the 1976 wine CMO envisioned a limited timescale for planting rights and other preferences.

Cioloş has urged all sides to find common ground and appointed a high-level group which met several times during the year.

Timeline: 
  • 18-19 Dec.: Agriculture and Fisheries Council meeting in Brussels.
  • 1 Jan. - 30 June 2013: Irish presidency of the EU Council of Ministers.
  • 21 Jan. 2013: German and French ministries participate in seminar on the future of the rural world and agriculture in Berlin.
  • 26 Feb. 2013: German and French ministries participate in seminar on the future of the rural world and agriculture in Paris.
  • 2014-2020: Next phase of the Common Agricultural Policy.
  • 2016: Planting limits on grapes are to expire under a Commission liberalisation proposal.
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