EU agriculture ministers met yesterday (18 January) to discuss Commission proposals on a better functioning food supply chain in Europe, which aims at improving commercial relationships between producers and consumers.
Spanish Rural Affairs Minister Elena Espinosa, chair of the ministerial meeting, said that the discussions revolved around greater price and market transparency, combating unfair commercial practices, contractual relationships, 'inter-branch' cooperation between professional organisations and the overall "competitive edge" of the EU agri-food sector at international level.
She said that all ministers welcomed the Commission's initiative, which sets out measures to ensure the proper functioning of the food supply chain, and expressed hope that EU measures would enter into force "as soon as possible".
Furthermore, many delegations underlined the need for further steps to ensure "fair distribution of value added right the way down the food supply chain," stressing the need to make sure that "each link in the chain gets fair compensation" for work done in the process, the Spanish Council chair told the press.
While a number of countries already have price monitoring centres, this information is not shared with other member states, according to Espinosa.
"We should not only share information about prices but also about profit margins people might be benefiting from. We should be able to have that information to spot where distortions are occurring in the food supply chain nationally or throughout Europe," she said.
CAP waivers under discussion
A number of countries suggested making changes to the single Common Market Organisation's (CMO) role in EU farm policy. Some delegations proposed the introduction of waivers and exceptions for the agrifood sector to allow its actors to become better organised.
Espinosa said the delegations had already agreed on many issues in this regard, but "one or two points" remained to be discussed in the special committee on agriculture before unanimity could be reached and trigger new legislative initiatives.
However, measures introduced through legislative initiatives might take a bit longer to see the light as the European Parliament now holds co-decision powers. On the contrary, measures that do not include legislative initiatives could be adopted "more quickly," Espinosa said.
A group of member states led by France has suggested setting a minimum price for milk at national level between producers and industry (EurActiv 08/09/09). Such 'contractualisation' at EU level between producers of agricultural commodities and industry is not currently possible, but has been proposed as a solution to the current milk crisis and declining dairy farming revenues. This possibility is currently being studied and could be proposed for other farm commodities too.
Last week, the French government presented a bill to reform the country's agriculture and fisheries policy.
French Farm Minister Bruno Le Maire said that the principle of a state-regulated written contract would "become the rule" in relations between food producers and the rest of the food chain in order to improve producer income and to balance relations between food producers, industry and retailers.