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EU: Agriculture Council

Volume 712: debated on Thursday 9 July 2009

Statement

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State (Hilary Benn) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Minister for Food, Farming and Environment (Jim Fitzpatrick) represented the United Kingdom at June’s Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Luxembourg. Richard Lochhead MSP also attended.

There were six substantive agenda items under agriculture and fisheries, as well as a number of AOB items.

On agriculture, presidency efforts to agree council conclusions on the future of direct payments under CAP reform were rebuffed. With six statements of opposition (including the UK), the document was adopted as presidency conclusions.

Ministers endorsed the council conclusions on the reform of less favoured areas. Ministers also endorsed the council conclusions on agricultural product quality.

At a closed lunch, Ministers discussed the difficulties in the dairy sector. The Commission informed the debate, which took place in light of recently adopted European Council conclusions on the dairy sector, with a quarterly report on dairy market trends. A number of member states spoke on the present difficulties in the milk market and questioned the role and power of retailers in managing prices. However, none came forward with ideas of what additional measures could be introduced beyond those already in hand.

There were nine agriculture AOB items. The Dutch Minister encouraged Ministers to reflect on the specific recommendations from CSD-17 in respect of agriculture and climate change in the run-up to the Copenhagen climate change negotiations. The incoming presidency (Sweden) also plans to discuss this, notably at its informal council in September. The UK underlined the importance of the debate and distributed copies of its recently published climate projections for the UK.

The presidency then briefly reported the conclusions on the EU paying agencies conference held under its auspices.

France introduced its paper calling for the rapid implementation of recommendations made by the European Parliament in respect of the Commission’s 2008 communication on food prices and the soon-to-be-adopted recommendations of the high-level group on the competitiveness of the agri-food industry. Many member states shared the French concerns, though the UK cautioned that any new regulation needed to be proportionate and evidence-based.

The presidency outlined the progress that it had made on the control of trade in illegally logged timber. Member states, including the UK, urged rapid action to agree the dossier and called for inclusion a ban on the import of illegally logged timber. Sweden, as incoming presidency, said that it aimed to reach a council common position by December 2009.

The presidency also concluded that the proposed regulation updating and harmonising the animal welfare rules applicable at slaughter was agreed and would be adopted as an “A” point in due course.

Ministers were then updated on the progress of the welfare of animals used in scientific research dossier. Sweden confirmed that it would be a priority during its presidency.

Next, the presidency explained its work to reach compromises on the proposals to ban the use of seven pesticides that had not been approved by the relevant regulatory committee. Compromises had been reached on three, which would be approved as “A” points at the June Environment Council. Work was continuing on the other four.

The presidency reported on the limited progress made on the proposal to modernise, simplify and clarify the 30 year-old rules on food labelling.

Finally on agriculture, the UK thanked the Commission for the flexibility that it had shown so far to help to reduce the compliance costs of sheep EID, but stressed that the dossier remained of concern within the UK because of the impact on the farming industry. The UK put forward further proposals for reducing the costs of the regulation while retaining the benefits and protection provided by sheep EID. However, the proposals were not supported by the Commission.

On fisheries, the council adopted pre-prepared conclusions on the importance of the aquaculture industry, principally welcoming the Commission’s April communication designed to give new impetus to the sustainable development of aquaculture in the EU.

Ministers then held a structured debate on some of the key issues outstanding in the negotiations to agree a new control regulation for EU fisheries, which governs the obligations for monitoring fishing activity to ensure compliance with EU legal obligations. On the main issues, member states were broadly in agreement that there should be tighter controls and better use of technologies to ensure a more cost-effective and workable enforcement regime.

Turning to fishing opportunities for 2010, the Commission pointed to its communication setting out the intended approach to setting catch limits for 2010. When taken with existing multi-annual recovery and management plans for certain stocks, and the scientific advice due for publication on 26 June, an accurate impression of the likely outcomes for each stock can be determined. The UK and others supported the high-grading ban and the UK noted that economic impact assessment should be undertaken before TAC reductions were agreed to.

Finally under any other business, the Commission gave an oral six-monthly report on CFP simplification, noting more streamlining and the deletion of some obsolete regulations. The Commissioner also thanked member states for having responded well to their obligations on bluefin tuna in the eastern Atlantic and the Mediterranean.