I represented the UK at the EU Agriculture and Fisheries Council on 24 March. Richard Lochhead MSP was also present.
Promotion of agricultural produce
The Council agreed its political approach to national co-financing and selection of programme proposals for promotion of agricultural produce. It set the ceiling for EU funding at 75%—85% in times of crisis—with producers making up the difference and national co-financing removed, in line with UK lobbying.
Management of sand eel—establishment of a total allowable catch (TAC) for 2014
The Council adopted by qualified majority a Council regulation setting up TACs in 2014 for sand eels and blue whiting. The UK abstained as the Council regulation had not cleared parliamentary scrutiny.
Coastal states consultations on mackerel and EU/Norway bilateral consultations
The Council discussed the outcome of the negotiations. The deal on mackerel reached between the EU, Norway and the Faroe islands 12 March was a major achievement, bringing to an end the long-running international dispute over the management of what is the UK’s most valuable stock. The Commission confirmed that discussions with Iceland would continue in the hope that it would also join the agreement.
The conclusion of a deal on mackerel also enabled bilateral fisheries agreements to be reached between the EU and Norway and the Faroe islands. These allow the joint management of shared stocks and give access to each other’s waters for 2014.
Overall the three agreements were supported by member states, though some expressed their concerns about the extension of the fully documented fisheries (FDF) scheme for North sea plaice in the EU-Norway agreement. The UK welcomed the agreements given the benefits they will provide for UK fishermen and responded to the concerns on extension of the FDF scheme by highlighting the importance of pilot projects to prepare for the discard ban. The Commission supported the UK position on FDF.
Processed meat labelling
The Council was divided on indications of the country of origin or place of provenance for meat used as an ingredient. During discussions three broad camps emerged: the UK and others favoured the current voluntary approach; a second group favoured mandatory labelling and a third group said that further discussion was necessary. The presidency decided to convene a working party to examine the report and member state positions further.
The Commission reported on its organic production proposal which aims to support the increased demand, while taking account of consumer standards, the risk of fraud and the need for transparency. It also encourages spending of both pillar 1 and pillar 2 funds on research and innovation in this area. There was no discussion, and the presidency confirmed that the proposal would now go to working group.
Fruit and vegetables
The Commission presented its report on the ED fruit and vegetable production sector following the reform of the sector in 2007. ED Fruit and vegetable consumption had reduced since the reform. However the percentage of the EU’s fruit and vegetables grown by producers that are members of producer organisations had increased during the same period. The Commission stated that it would bring forward specific proposals, with a focus on improving the long-term competitiveness of the sector. Again, there was no discussion but the presidency confirmed that this topic would be on a future Council agenda.
Any other business
Honey breakfast initiative
Slovenia explained its “honey breakfast” initiative which aimed to educate children on the importance of bees.
International year of family farming
Hungary reported on the convention it had hosted to celebrate the international year of family farming. The Commission noted that it would run a conference on the same topic in Bucharest next month.
Italy and other member states said that their rice sector was under pressure from imports from Cambodia. The Commission noted that the import tariffs imposed on developing countries had been zero rated to encourage development and that it would keep the situation under review.
Member states maintained the same positions outlined in last month’s discussion on the situation in the dairy sector. The Commission and presidency again noted the lack of a qualified majority in favour of the “soft-landing” on quotas and that the Commission would report in June.
Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing
Spain, supported by other member states, said it was firmly committed to combating IUU fishing, but was disappointed with the implementation of the regulation. They also had concerns about the transparency of the process for listing non-co-operating countries. The Commission disagreed that the process for listing non-co-operating countries was opaque or that they were not committed to the regulation. The Commission confirmed that the regulation would be reviewed next year but for now it was focused on its implementation.