I represented the UK at the EU Agriculture and Fisheries Council on 16 March in Brussels. Rebecca Evans AM and Richard Lochhead MSP were also present.
There were only agriculture items on the agenda.
Organic production and labelling of organic products
The Council held an orientation debate on the proposal for a regulation on organic production and labelling of organic products. Most member states agreed that good progress had been made. Austria and the Netherlands, however, repeated their calls for the proposal to be withdrawn, arguing that it would hinder rather than support development of the organic sector. I, along with a number of other member states, argued for the removal of the requirement for annual physical inspections in favour of a risk-based approach. I also stressed that the Commission’s proposal to move to an import regime based on compliance with EU rules should not impact negatively on developing countries and that a significant transition period should be included. The presidency confirmed work on the proposal would continue with the aim of reaching a Council position in May.
Milk Sector: market situation, trends and EU measures
The Council discussed the milk sector focusing on the market situation, trends and EU measures. Poland stressed that its producers were finding the current market situation tough and France and Spain repeated their request for the Commission to consider stronger crisis management tools. I stressed that further work was needed to identify and develop new markets and urged the Commission to come forward with its feasibility study on dairy country of origin labelling as soon as possible. Commissioner Hogan acknowledged the difficulties in some parts of the sector but expressed optimism about global demand in the future. He also said he would consider suggestions for broadening the scope of the Milk Market Observatory.
CAP implementation and simplification
Commissioner Hogan opened the session on CAP by announcing that he would consider extending the 15 May deadline by when farmers had to submit their scheme applications given the administrative demands of the new regime. I supported Italy and other member states in calling for that extension and I stressed that it should be a minimum of a month. The Commissioner also confirmed that his services were examining all of the ideas submitted by member states in response to his simplification exercise. Ministers then proceeded to highlight a wide range of priorities for change, including the new greening requirements. I called for more realistic greening mapping and control regimes and argued that member states’ own interpretations and implementation should be respected. The presidency confirmed that they would seek to agree Council conclusions on CAP simplification at the May Council.
International agricultural trade issues
The Commission provided an update on EU agricultural imports and exports and the progress of a range of bilateral and multilateral trade negotiations during a Minister-only lunch session. I agreed with those member states who stressed that the EU’s high production standards and system of geographical indications should not be undermined. However, I underlined that global trade could boost economic growth across Europe and that significant opportunities were available to the EU, in particular in negotiations with the US and Japan.
AOB: Angora wool and fur from maltreated rabbits and furred animals
The Netherlands highlighted the issue, mainly in China, of plucking live angora rabbits for wool and furred animals being maltreated. I shared their concern and stated that UK officials would approach our textile and clothing industry to better understand their position. The Commission noted that the World Trade Organisation rules currently prevent the EU from imposing its animal welfare standards on third countries and agreed that a business to business approach would be best.
AOB: Xylella fastidiosa in southern Italy and risk of further spread in the EU
Commissioner Andriukaitis underlined the seriousness of the threat of the Xylella fastidiosa bacteria not only for olive trees but also potentially to the wider agriculture sector. Italy explained what measures had been taken and that the eradication of host plants was now under way. I supported the need for stronger EU emergency measures as well as updating the plant health directive, to provide better protection against all strains, from all countries and on all host plants.