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Elizabeth Truss - Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My Noble Friend Lord Gardiner, Defra spokesman in the House of Lords, represented the UK at the extraordinary Agriculture and Fisheries Council on 7 September in Brussels. Michelle ONeill MLA, Rebecca Evans AM and Richard Lochhead MSP also attended.

The extraordinary Council was called to discuss market developments in the livestock and dairy sector. There were also two Any Other Business items on the agenda.

European Union Commission Vice-President Jyrki Katainen unveiled a 500 million aid package for farmers in all Member States, recognising the deteriorating market situation. The package will focus on:

  • addressing cash-flow difficulties farmers are facing;
  • stabilising markets through a new private storage scheme;
  • addressing the functioning of the supply chain by establishing a high level group to focus on credit for farmers and futures markets.

Vice President Katainen also highlighted that the European Fund for Strategic Investments was available to support investment in the farming sector. The Commissions programme will also help to stabilise prices of products through the distribution of dairy products to vulnerable groups. Renewed efforts will be made to reach an early conclusion to the ongoing negotiations for revised school schemes for fruit and milk.

Lord Gardiner thanked the Commission for their approach to this crisis over the last couple of weeks, but urged rapid action and implementation of the package. For example he asked the Commission to relax a number of specific Common Agricultural Policy controls for 2015 so that the majority of farmers can be paid promptly. This will help with serious cash flow problems which are concerning farmers at the moment.

Lord Gardiner also urged that we fast-track the use of European Investment Bank financial instruments within our Rural Development Programmes.

Looking forward, Lord Gardiner asked for greater transparency and fairness in the supply chain. The UK Groceries Code Adjudicator offers a robust approach, which could be a basis for wider EU action. He also called for further action from the Commission on Country of Origin Labelling. Better labelling and branding, with regional flexibility, would provide shoppers with greater certainty on where their products come from.

During the table-round, Member States broadly welcomed the package announced by Vice President Katainen and like the UK called for rapid action and asked for more details to be able to help farmers as quickly as possible. Despite the Commissions rejection to increase the intervention prices several Member States including France, Spain, Belgium, Poland, Czech Republic, Ireland and Portugal still called for them to be raised. The UK along with the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden argued against an increase.

The main AOB on the agenda consisted of the Baltic States and Poland requesting more clarity on the rules governing regionalisation following an outbreak of African Swine Fever. Commissioner Andriukaitis agreed to review the rules but stressed that the European Unions disease regionalisation policy could not be jeopardised. Helpfully, the Commissioner reiterated that Member States should not start bilateral discussions with Russia on re-opening trade. He argued that Russia played games to seriously harm our common EU interests. The other AOB on drought in Poland and Romania was included as part of the wider market discussion.

Since the Extraordinary Council took place, the Commission has announced that the UK will receive 36.07 million in targeted aid.

 


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