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Agriculture and Fisheries Council (January)

Volume 558: debated on Thursday 14 February 2013

I represented the UK on agricultural matters and the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon), who is responsible for natural environment and fisheries, represented the United Kingdom on fisheries items. Richard Lochhead MSP and Alun Davies AM were also part of the United Kingdom delegation.

Fisheries

Work programme

The presidency ran through its work programme, underlining its priority to progress and adopt the common fisheries policy (CFP) reform package.

CFP reform

The presidency wants to return to the CFP basic regulation in February and have political agreement on the whole package in June; they urged member states to work flexibly towards a compromise rather than repeat their existing positions. All member states agreed they could support the timeline but many highlighted the issues they would need to see resolved before agreement could be reached. Despite a large number of member states stressing the need to stick to the Council’s general approach as closely as possible, many suggested they will seek delays to key deadlines, for example on discards or to make the provisions less ambitious.

Skaggerak

The Commission outlined the background to their proposal for a regulation on technical control measures in the area between Denmark, Norway and Sweden, explaining that it was needed in order to allow fishing to continue under a discard ban; a view backed by Denmark and Sweden. The UK and others saw this regional approach to a specific regional situation as reflecting the shape of the future CFP. Some were more hesitant about the use of CCTV for control purposes in this case, but they could accept it if it was not used as a precedent for implementing the discard ban elsewhere.

EU-Norway

Recent negotiations with Norway resulted in increases of the total allowable catches (TACs) for a number of species including North sea haddock, saithe, plaice, whiting and herring. The EU gained access to more Arctic cod and exchanges with Norway fairly reflected the interests of the different member states. The Faroes declared its intent to set its own TAC unilaterally on Atlanto-Scandian herring. The Commission would look closely into what could be done in response to this, including all legal measures available. The Commission also reported that the EU and Norway had agreed to take the traditional 90% of the mackerel TAG which was to be reduced in line with ICES advice. There was a need to consider further the possible introduction of trade sanctions against Iceland and Faroe Islands, but the Commission would continue to prepare suitable legislation.

Ministerial lunch

The ministerial lunch involved a discussion on how to secure agreement with the European Parliament over multi-annual plans; given a likely institutional disagreement over the correct legal base.

Agriculture

Common agricultural policy (CAP) reform road map

The presidency began by underlining their objective of securing an inter-institutional political agreement on CAP reform in June. The Commission welcomed the proposed timetable and confirmed that it would bring forward a transitional proposal for 2014 once the MFF had been agreed. Some member states highlighted a list of issues which they considered priorities and would need resolving before an agreement could be met. The UK supported the proposed timetable from the presidency highlighting the need to reach a deal to provide certainty for farmers and the food industry and underline the need for it to be a good deal for farmers, consumers and taxpayers. The UK also highlighted the disappointing EP agriculture committee votes, which risked halting or reversing the CAP’s progress towards a more market-orientated policy.

Any Other Business

Pig sow stall ban

A total of 17 member states were not compliant with the sow stall ban which came into force on 1 January 2013. The Commission stressed that non-compliance would impact on the single market and the perception of the EU’s ability to implement its decisions; but also noted that any national restrictions on imports would be against the spirit of the treaty. It was holding a stakeholder conference at the same time as the Council to discuss solutions and encourage compliance. The UK, supported by others, called for vigorous Commission pursuance of the level playing field, so that compliant producers would not be disadvantaged by inaction elsewhere in Europe.

Neonicotinoids (risk assessment for bees)

The Dutch introduced a request for EU-wide measures. A ban on all neonicotinoids did not appear justified. Many member states intervened to echo the need for further consideration of the evidence and, if necessary, for action to be taken at EU level. The UK emphasised the need for a science-based and proportionate approach. The UK also highlighted that it had carried out field research to address gaps in the evidence and would provide this to the Commission as soon as it is ready. The Commission agreed that EU action was needed and would bring forward a proposal for legally binding measures to the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health (SCoFCAH) on 31 January. The Commission aimed to complete its impact assessment by May.

European school fruit scheme

The Commission introduced its evaluation of this EU scheme which last year supplied fruit to eight million children across 24 member states. The presidency confirmed that a forthcoming meeting of the special committee on agriculture would be invited to consider the Commission’s evaluation in more detail.

EU-Singapore free trade agreement

The Commission stressed that it had met a key aim of protecting EU agricultural products with geographical indications (GIs) as part of this trade agreement. Singapore would bring in legislation to guarantee such GIs from 2014 and the FTA would not be signed until this guarantee was complete. France and Italy intervened and were reluctant to give full approval until they could see how this guarantee would work.

EU-Canada free trade agreement and WTO negotiations

Negotiations on the FTA with Canada were entering the final phase. Canadian access to the EU fresh meat market is causing concern with some member states, which the EU needs to consider in the light of the interaction between the different FTAs. EU has made clear that a satisfactory result is necessary on geographical indications (GIs), enhancing protection of EU GIs in Canada. These issues would have to be overcome in order to finalise the EU-Canada FTA. On the WTO Doha development agenda (DDA), developing countries would want movement on agriculture and the EU may have to compromise on this, in order to secure a DDA trade facilitation agreement. The UK welcomed progress on trade, which is a key driver of economic growth, and supported swift progress on EU-Canada FTA, EU-US trade talks and the DDA.