My right honourable friend the Secretary of State (Hilary Benn) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
My honourable friend the Minister for Food, Farming and Environment (Jim Fitzpatrick) represented the United Kingdom at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Brussels on 18 January.
This was the first Agriculture and Fisheries Council under the Spanish presidency, and probably the last for Mariann Fischer Boel as Commissioner. The presidency briefly introduced its work programme, highlighting its three priorities—long-term CAP reform, competitiveness and the profile of women in rural areas.
Following the Commission's presentation of its communication aimed at improving the food supply chain at December Council, the presidency circulated a discussion paper to structure debate. Interventions fell into three broad categories—market transparency; the role of producer organisations; and the country of origin principle.
For market transparency (surveillance of price trends and margins for producers, processors and retailers) member states were divided between those that felt price monitoring should be carried out systematically at EU level, and those which, sceptical of creating additional costs and burdens, favoured national competence (including UK).
Positions were also divided on the role of producer organisations. France called for changes to single market rules and competition law; and the adoption of model contracts. Germany and the UK, at the other end of the spectrum, insisted on the need to operate within the rules. The UK observed that the Government should support markets, where appropriate, describing its recent own initiative in the grocery supply chain. Ministers were also divided between those calling for compulsory and voluntary regulation of markets (in the event of the Commission's taking action).
The presidency concluded that a number of member states had called for changes to the current rules to be adopted, and mandated the special committee on agriculture to further explore the issues, with a view to the adoption of council conclusions.
A number of items were tabled under any other business. Lithuania, on behalf of Estonia, Poland and Latvia, explained that pig exports to Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan had been significantly affected by a hike in import duties in the Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan customs union.
Belgium, supported by Austria, Germany, Lithuania and Portugal, urged the Commission to resolve speedily WTO difficulties with the export of out-of-quota sugar. They argued that this was necessary to deal with the large surplus of sugar produced by the EU, and to allow farmers to make decisions about the next growing period.
Austria informed council about the forthcoming OCED Agriculture Ministerial it would co-chair with Australia. The presidency announced that the subject would be discussed by Ministers over lunch at the February Council. Austria also drew Ministers' attention to a recent seminar on the challenges of farming in mountainous area—calling for a strong CAP as a means of ongoing support.
The state aid requests from Italy and Bulgaria were withdrawn.