I represented the UK at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council on 14 and 15 November in Brussels.
Commissioner Vella presented a proposal for a Council regulation setting deep sea fishing opportunities for 2017 and 2018. Commissioner Vella noted there were challenges in setting total allowable catches (TACs). The UK, Poland, Sweden and Denmark stressed the need to protect stocks, although Denmark noted that the TACs should not be lowered too far or these stocks would become obstacles to fully implementing the landing obligation. A compromise text mitigated some of the proposed cuts, while still providing adequate protections, and was therefore unanimously agreed.
Commissioner Vella presented proposals for the North Sea multi-annual plan (MAP). The UK, Sweden, Germany, Denmark, Belgium and Poland expressed their general support for the proposal. However, the UK, echoed by France and Denmark had concerns that some of the additional controls would increase the administrative burden without any commensurate benefit.
Mr Cees Veerman, Chairman of the Agricultural Markets Taskforce (AMT), presented the report of the AMT and the main recommendations within it, which set the agenda for future work. They included strengthening market transparency, and setting out a framework including a list of prohibited, basic unfair trading practices (UTPs) which would carry the penalty of sanctions. The UK welcomed that the AMT largely based the recommendations for UTPs on the work of the UK groceries code adjudicator.
Commissioner Hogan and Vice-President Katainen presented the DG AGRI report on the cumulative impact of free trade association (FTA) concessions on agriculture. Commissioner Hogan stressed that it did not represent a projected outcome of the 12 ongoing or potential EU-third country FTAs within its scope. The report analysed the cumulative economic impacts of tariff liberalisation through two theoretical scenarios. Overall, the conclusions were balanced and confirmed potential for net trade gains. Vice-President Katainen set the report in the context of the EU’s wider free trade, jobs and growth agenda. The UK underlined its long-standing support for tariff-free access and reduced non-tariff barriers, but noted that agriculture goes beyond questions of simple economics.
Any other business items
The UK introduced an item on behalf of the North Western Waters regional group on the landing obligation. It drew attention to the good progress made so far in implementing the landing obligation, a key part of the last reform of the common fisheries policy (CFP), but also the potential problem of choke species had to be dealt with. The UK presented ongoing work in the regions on this issue and pressed the Commission to heed it. The UK points were supported by Portugal, Germany, Ireland, Denmark, Belgium, France, Spain, the Netherlands, Latvia and Sweden, with many thanking the UK for bringing this important issue to the table.
Greece voiced their concerns that the difference between customary names and standard names for geographical indication protected products undermined the EU system. The Commission pushed back by pointing out that the current legal wording ensures sufficient security.
Commissioner Andriukaitis announced that the Commission will establish and host the first meeting of the animal welfare platform, which will discuss best practice in this field, during the Maltese presidency. The UK’s support for this call and the need for a review of rest periods in line with current scientific advice was praised by several animal welfare charities via online media platforms.
Denmark raised concerns about the increased use of antimicrobials in the veterinary sector in some member states and called for immediate action. The UK, along with eight other member states supported this call.