I represented the UK at the EU Agriculture and Fisheries Council on 13 October in Luxembourg. Richard Lochhead MSP was also present.
Agreement was reached on setting the TACs and quotas for the Baltic sea in 2015, established for the first time under the requirements of the reformed common fisheries policy. Preparatory discussions were also held ahead of the upcoming EU-Norway fisheries agreement negotiations, where I highlighted our priorities of North sea cod and continuation of our successful catch quota scheme. I also supported the Commission in the need to introduce further shark protection measures and follow the science in setting quotas for bluefin tuna at next month’s annual meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT).
The Council discussed the impact of the Russian trade restrictions on EU fisheries products. I highlighted the impact on the Scottish pelagic fishing industry with Russia making up 18% of the UK’s mackerel exports in 2013. I was successful in securing agreement from the Council to increase quota banking rates from 10% to 25% for mackerel and herring as a temporary measure. This will allow UK fishermen to carry over more of their 2014 quota until 2015, thereby providing more time to develop alternative export markets.
Under AOB Lithuania also raised its concerns about the seizing of a Lithuanian fishing vessel by the Russian authorities. Commissioner Damanaki assured Lithuania that she was giving high priority to responding to this situation.
Europe 2020 strategy
Member states responded to a short presidency questionnaire on the Europe 2020 strategy mid-term review. I stressed that CAP contributes to jobs and growth through pillar 2 rural development programmes where it can be used to support agricultural innovation and competitiveness.
Europe 2030 climate and energy package
EU Ministers participated in a lunch discussion on the treatment of agriculture and the land use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF) sector under the 2030 climate and energy framework. I argued that we cannot have an informed discussion in the immediate term on the role of these sectors as there is insufficient data to fully assess the three options suggested by the Commission and outlined in the presidency’s paper. The Commission acknowledged that further work was required.
Agricultural trade issues
The Commission updated the Council on the progress of several trade negotiations, including the transatlantic trade and investment partnership (TTIP), the comprehensive economic and trade agreement (CETA) and Mercosur. Several member states accepted that open, global markets were necessary but many raised concerns. Focusing on TTIP, I acknowledged that there would be some difficult discussions ahead however none appeared insurmountable and we should not overlook the benefits for all parties from a successful deal.
African swine fever
The Council endorsed a Commission proposal in response to a request from Poland and the Baltic member states to increase the EU co-financing rate to 75% for measures to combat the spread of African swine fever.
Russian ban on agriculture products from the EU
The Commission stated that it wanted to provide direct compensation to dairy producers in the Baltic member states and Finland who have been impacted the most as a result of the Russian import ban. Commissioner Ciolos, however, was unable to provide further detail but acknowledged that it may need to be funded through the crisis reserve. I accepted the principle but argued that further detail was required and we needed to consider the precedent it would set. The Commission and presidency agreed to discuss this further at the special committee on agriculture on 20 October. I, along with several other member states, rejected Polish proposals for the reintroduction of export refunds in the dairy sector and a temporary increase in the intervention price.
International Olive Oil Council
The Commission updated the Council on action it was taking to prevent the current impasse in negotiations to extend the mandate of the International Olive Oil Council, and its efforts to persuade the Turkish chair to extend the current agreement for one year.