Bulgarian minister wants to put imported food ‘under quarantine’

Deputy PM Krassimir Karakachanov (dark blue shirt) disusses issues with PM Boyko Borissov [C]. [Facebook page of Krassimir Karakachanov]

Under the guise of looking after local food producers in the conditions of the coronavirus crisis, Bulgaria’s ruling politicians are seeking to push through protectionist measures against imported goods.

Deputy Prime Minister Krasimir Karakachanov proposed on Friday (10 April) to ban imports of foreign food products until the Bulgarian production is exhausted.

Karakachanov, the leader of the nationalist VMRO party, a junior coalition partner in Boyko Borissov’s cabinet, urged the government to oblige the economy minister to stop the import and sale of fruits and vegetables during the harvesting season of Bulgarian fruits and vegetables until the locally grown supplies are exhausted.

Karakachanov’s idea builds on a proposal by ​​the Minister of Agriculture Desislava Taneva from a few days ago. Taneva is a member of Borissov’s GERB party (EPP-affiliated).

Taneva’s ministry wants to impose administrative rules in order to have one half of the area in all ​​supermarkets reserved exclusively for food produced in Bulgaria.

According to the project, all food retail chains should set aside places (stands, racks, refrigerated showcases, etc.) for Bulgarian food, which must cover at least half the area for each of the different food groups.

These foods must originate directly from the producers in the respective geographic area of ​​each store, or from up to 200 km away from the district centre. Such products cannot be sold at promotional prices, except with the express written consent of the manufacturer.

The proposal is being discussed between government officials and the Association for modern trade, which brings together major retail chains in the country, including Kaufland, Lidl, Billa, and several Bulgarian chains

Prime Minister Boyko Borissov has not yet publicly commented on the proposal and it is not yet clear if and when it will be adopted.

Taneva’s ideas were criticised for breaching EU legislation in a number of areas, such as the free movement of goods, and the same criticism also applies to Karakachanov’s proposals.

The Association for modern trade has warned that competition rules are being violated and that unauthorised state aid is being granted, which in their view could lead to court proceedings against Bulgaria.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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