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State Secretary Podgoršek at the EU Council meeting

Brussels, 14–15 November 2016 – State Secretary Marjan Podgoršek attended the EU Agriculture and Fisheries Council, which discussed at its session a set of items regarding fisheries, and was informed about the report of the Agricultural Markets Task Force and the Commission's Study on the Cumulative Impact of Concessions in Free Trade Agreements on Agricultural Products. In addition to the abovementioned, a discussion was held on research and innovation in agriculture. In other business, State Secretary Podgoršek presented Slovenia's opinion on the Land Use and Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) Regulation proposal, on the welfare of animals during transport and on the nodular dermatitis issue.


Under the items regarding fisheries, the Ministers at the EU Agriculture and Fisheries Council reached political agreement on fishing opportunities and quotas for EU vessels for certain deep-sea fish stocks over the next two years and also discussed the proposal on establishing a multi-annual plan for demersal fish stocks in the North Sea. When discussing other business, the EU Commission reminded the EU Member States of their obligation to carry out their action plans for the ex-ante conditionalities of the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund by the end of 2016. Slovenia was not among the seven Member States who received a special letter from the European Commission warning on possible interruptions of interim payments from the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, since it has fulfilled all its obligations regarding the ex-ante conditionalities in connection with the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund. 


At the presentation of the report on the results of the informal meeting of the EU Forest Directors held on 7 and 8 November in Bratislava, State Secretary Podgoršek pointed to the discussion on the EU Regulation proposal to include the greenhouse gas emissions and deductions resulting from land cultivation, land-use change, and forestry in the climate and energy policy up to 2030 (LULUCF Regulation). In this context he stressed that in adopting EU legislation on LULUCF, special national features should be taken into account, as well as many other benefits provided by forests and agriculture, and, in particular, ensuring food security. He accordingly expressed his concern about the current regulation proposal, whose adoption would most affect states like Slovenia, which in the past have invested great efforts in sustainable forest management and increased their forest surface, and thus contributed to the reduction of harmful emissions.

Under other business, regarding the welfare of animals during transport, Slovenia joined the initiative of Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden to revise the existing rules on protecting animals during transport. The proposed amendments would ensure a more uniform implementation of the rules on the welfare of animals during transport in all Member States. 


The Ministers also took note of the report of the Agricultural Markets Task Force on the position of farmers in the food supply chain. The European Commission will use the report as a basis to examine and prepare appropriate measures for the prevention of unfair trading practices. The report also addresses other areas regarding improved market transparency, increased cooperation among farmers, easier access to financial resources for farmers, and improved measures for risk management.


In his first response, State Secretary Podgoršek considered the report realistic, since it comprehensively addresses the issue of the future development of agriculture and, in addition to the recommendations for the functioning of the food chain and improvement of the situation of farmers, the report also includes considerations regarding the future of the CAP as a whole. He pointed out that for Slovenia the recommendation was of key importance for drafting a common legislative framework at the EU level to prevent unfair trading practices; it is required for the operation of the common market, introduction of uniform practices and formation of a joint approach. He welcomed proposals directly related to improving farmers' position in negotiations. He supported the introduction of clearer rules on exemptions from competition rules, further promotion of the organisation and cooperation of farmers, and expanding opportunities for introduction of mandatory written contracts. 


At the meeting the European Commission presented the summary of findings of the study on the cumulative impact of concessions in free trade agreements. The Study’s key findings are that, in the global market, there are great potentials for certain products, whereas for other products further liberalization would pose additional risks. With cheese and skimmed powdered milk, in particular, the study established that due to increased demand according to the selected scenarios prices might increase by 9-16% and/or production might increase by 2-4 %. The Study has also established positive trends for sectors like the pigmeat and cereals sectors, which are managed for processed high-quality products, alcoholic beverages and wine. The beef, poultry and sugar sectors were highlighted as sectors that would be faced with the negative impacts of concluding the new free trade agreements. For beef, in particular, further liberalization would cause a decrease in prices of 8-16%. Regarding beef, the fall in production would not be as significant due to an increased demand for beef resulting from lower prices and, therefore, a decrease in production is estimated to be by 0.5–1.4%. 


This study was required by Member States, including Slovenia. State Secretary Marjan Podgoršek said that knowing the cumulative impact of concessions is of crucial importance for the continuation of negotiations and defining possible concessions in agriculture. In addition to the abovementioned this is also an opportunity for consideration of negotiation tactics in agriculture and safe food since it is not acceptable for Slovenia to endanger the existence of the agricultural production or fulfilment of high standards on safe food. Slovenia also supported the proposal by France, Germany and Poland to protect the interests of the European agriculture in negotiations with the Mercosur group. 


Within the discussion on the importance of research and innovation in agriculture, State Secretary Marjan Podgoršek emphasised that research and innovation are key to the sustainable development of agriculture, fisheries and forestry, and that the adopted Strategy for research and innovation in agriculture serves as an adequate framework as to content. In connection with the implementation itself, the State Secretary pinpointed the issue of a considerable development deficit in Central and Eastern Europe and the need for an increased level of interconnectedness in this part of Europe under the Horizon 2020 project. Slovenia, together with other states of the Visegrád Group members, and Romania and Bulgaria, drafted a joint resolution advocating the enhanced inclusion of the research potential of these countries. 


At their working lunch, the Ministers discussed the future of the Common Agricultural Policy after 2020. State Secretary Podgoršek stressed that we need a strong Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in the future, too. The CAP should be focused on farms that carry out a basic agricultural production on one hand and provide socially desired public assets on the other hand. In addition to the abovementioned, the CAP should ensure a common framework of measures and, at the same time, be flexible enough to take into account diversity of natural and social conditions in Europe. He stressed that adequate financial resources and instruments with which the foundations of sustainable development would be achieved should be provided for challenges in economic, environmental and social sectors. State Secretary Podgoršek mentioned certain elements of the future CAP that are of key importance for Slovenia, such as conservation of farming in areas with natural or other specific constraints, promoting local sustainable self-sufficiency and ensuring stable income for all links in the food chain, providing support to small producers in their entrance onto the market, as well as regarding the safety-net measures, target-oriented and balanced measures to encourage production, and the conservation of natural resources, with no additional administrative burdens. In addition to the abovementioned, knowledge is an indispensable element of development and for this reason, a transfer of knowledge and innovations into practice should be enhanced and agricultural advisory service promoted. The intergenerational transfer of farm management and promotion of young farmers are the key priorities of the socially balanced development of rural areas.