EU farm ministers urge EU to explore all options against COVID-19

The agriculture minister of Croatia Marija Vučković, who holds the rotating presidency of the EU Agrifish Council, before the videoconference with EU27 farm ministers. [Davorin Visnjic/PIXSELL/EU2020HR]

In order to cope with negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the agri-food sector, member states have reiterated their call for additional measures which, however, are not in the European Commission’s pipeline.

At the Agrifish Council on Wednesday (13 May), EU agriculture ministers stressed that without additional financial reserves, it will be almost impossible to adequately support the farming sector.

Although aware of the budgetary constraints, the Council requested the Commission “to explore all available options”.

However, Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski confirmed to farm ministers that the EU executive is not preparing any new market measures for the moment.

“If it will be necessary, we are ready to propose something more,” he added, saying that the Commission is at the beginning of the implementation of the first set of measures, whose impact has yet to be assessed.

On 22 April, the Commission, squeezed by EU lawmakers and the agri-food sector, put forward a short-term package of market intervention measures having previously said that there was not enough money left for their deployment.

Commission backtracks on intervention measures in agri-food markets

The EU Executive gave way to the pressure from the EU lawmakers and the agri-food industry announcing exceptional market measures on Wednesday (22 April), after having said there was not enough money left over for their deployment less than a week ago.

According to the ministers, further measures could be implemented both in terms of relaxing the current CAP rules in relation to on-the-spot checks, but also those that will require further financial resources, like the activation of private storage aid (PSA) for other sectors such as poultry, pig and veal meat and potatoes.

In addition, some sectors that have already received support, such as the dairy and wine sectors, need additional measures, according to some ministers’ interventions.

“Since the last video conference in March, many steps were taken and our cooperation both on bilateral and at the EU level was good,” said Marija Vučković, Croatia’s agriculture minister, who chairs the rotating presidency of the EU Agrifish Council.

For the Commission, it was important to hear that all member states support the market measures adopted in the past weeks, even if they are already asking for more.

“The crisis is very large and covers all sectors but not at the same level. Our priority was to address the most affected, like dairy and the beef sector, fruit and vegetables,” explained  Commissioner Wojciechowski.

EU farm ministers seek targeted measures to withstand COVID-19

EU agriculture ministers have called for further specific and targeted measures to address the difficulties faced by the agri-food sector due to the COVID-19 pandemic such as restrictions in the movement of foodstuff, changes in the operation of production systems and insufficient workforce.

French Agriculture minister Didier Guillaume said he wanted to “thank the Commission for the first series of support measures, but I reiterated with my colleagues the need to go further for many sectors”.

Spanish minister Luis Planas asked that special attention should be given to the sheep and goat sector, as the adopted storage measure has not been as effective as could have been expected.

For Italy’s agriculture minister Teresa Bellanova, the measures already adopted go in the right direction, but in many cases, are very limited in scope or effectiveness, expensive, obsolete or incomplete.

“The Commission must intervene more decisively,” she said. Italy is also pushing for a new redistribution mechanism for private storage aid in the cheese sector, allowing certain countries to use unused quotas of others.

Poland, meanwhile, has demanded financial support for the poultry and pig meat sector, in order to maintain production and financial liquidity,

However, diverging opinions persist on the use of the reserve crisis fund, set up in the 2013 CAP reform to counteract market disruptions.

“There is no consensus between ministers,” said Croatia’s Vučković, adding that some believe it should be activated immediately while others say that all possibilities should be exhausted before going down that road.

Reluctance from certain member states to deploy the crisis fund, which has never been used before, is based on believing that it would result in corresponding cuts in direct payments.

EU agri-food sector puzzled by crisis reserve conundrum

As the exceptional measures taken by the European Commission have not been deemed adequate to relieve distressed agri-food markets, the idea of deploying the so far unused crisis fund, set up in the 2013 Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform, is coming to the fore.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic and Benjamin Fox]

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