Agri ministers consider new market support measures

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Agriculture Ministers from across Europe met in Brussels this week to discuss the current situation in agricultural markets, write MEP Jim Nicholson.

I have to say ministers ducked addressing the prolonged and on-going difficulties facing all sectors of the agricultural industry, delaying taking action on further support measures by kicking the can further down the road for another month.

The only thing we can take any glimmer of hope from is the acceptance by Ministers that there is a major problem which is not going to disappear in the short term, indeed it may well be with us for some considerable time to come.

There is a recognition in Brussels that the EU’s dairy and pigmeat sectors are experiencing the greatest problems, while Spain and other Mediterranean countries are facing particular difficulties in the fruit and veg sector. But we must remember that all sectors are in trouble to some degree, including beef and sheep.

In a nutshell Member States have now been asked by the current chair of the Agriculture Council, Dutch Agriculture Minister, Martijn van Dam to put forward their ideas about how to deal with the crisis in agriculture by 25 February. The Council and Commission will then use these suggestions to produce a consensus paper for the next Agriculture Council meeting which is scheduled for 14 March and then decide if any of the proposals are feasible. Some form of EU export credit facility appears to be the preferred measure, attracting a greater level of support from the Commission at this stage than any degree of market control or intervention.

It is also interesting to observe that Commissioner Hogan will meet the French Prime Minister and Agriculture Minister in Paris on 25 February to discuss their proposals which are the most far reaching.

French Agriculture Minister Stéphane Le Foll circulated a paper containing a series of measures to help address the crisis in agriculture ahead of this week’s meeting in Brussels. These proposals include regulating milk supply by providing financial incentives for dairy farmers who voluntarily reduce production during periods of falling prices.

The French have also called for the extension of Private Storage Aid for pigmeat and a greater focus on boosting exports.

This all comes at a time when I must admit I was very surprised to learn that the UK, Republic of Ireland, Netherlands and Poland were the four countries which last year had the largest increase in milk supply of all EU Member States while most others stayed static. This I believe is very revealing information which I think the industry must respond to.