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Martin Merrild, Copa:
"EU must do more to cut the red tape that's killing us"
Talking at a press conference, Copa President Martin Merrild said “For two years now, we have been faced with an imbalance on agricultural commodity markets and continuously falling profits, squeezed by low market prices and high input costs. The situation was made a lot worse by the Russian ban on EU farm exports which cut our exports for pork, dairy, fruit and vegetables a lot. Nobody thought that it would last this long. We have now recovered most of the exports that we lost due to this ban. But the markets remain fragile.”
“With the EU Commission set to release a Communication on the CAP post-202 outlining first thoughts on the CAP post-2020 next summer, it’s consequently important that we develop our ideas to feed into this process & ensure that we have an agriculture sector in the future which is more capable of responding to agricultural crises of the type we have just been through.”
Outlining key points, Mr Merrild said “ We need a CAP that works for the farmers so that they can deliver. The EU must be much more ambitious on cutting red tape that is killing us. Commissioner Hogan’s simplification agenda is welcome news but it does not go far enough. Some of the proposed changes actually make it more difficult for farmers and are also counter-productive when it comes to environmental sustainability. This must change next year and even more so in the CAP post-2020. We need rules that are simple, workable, and easy to understand.”
“We also need to develop tools at farm level post 2020 to help farmers better manage the risks of increasingly volatile markets. For example, risk management measures, insurance, futures markets, stronger measures to manage the market. Production also needs to be better targeted to consumer demands. The CAP must be aligned to reflect this. Consumers also need to be aware of the high production standards that we meet and of the many benefits of the EU agriculture sector for the economies of rural areas, growth & jobs. The CAP plays a vital role to ensure this. Communication must be improved here”, he stressed.
“But being a farmer is not only about markets. It is also about having the possibility to have a good life in rural areas, with access to good education, health facilities and jobs for our family members. Like everyone else, we need good infrastructures in rural areas and broadband access so that we can develop our businesses and benefit from smart farming and digital technology. At our workshops, speakers underlined that smart farming and precision agriculture helps producers to produce more using less resources and enables them to save on input costs. But with only 25% of farmers using precision farming, uptake must be increased. EU support and training is needed here and an adequate broadband infrastructure to unleash the promise of digital farming. We also need research to give us innovative tools that farmers can use. Better access to markets, and efficient use of existing natural resources will help us to contribute to one of the biggest challenges over the next decade: the need for increased food production for a growing world population. Importantly, it helps us in the fight against climate change which threatens food production,” he added.
“But how can we change the CAP to make farmers more climate efficient and produce more? There is no point in cutting efficient production in Europe just to build it up elsewhere. Together with all EU institutions, we must make the Paris agreement on climate work for us. I am sure we can deliver,. But to achieve this, we need a stable CAP with a strong budget behind it post 2020 so that producers together with their cooperatives can plan ahead and enjoy a viable future”, he said.
Cogeca President Thomas Magnusson went on to underline the positive impact that agricultural cooperatives have for their members. “In many cases, cooperatives provide stability to their members. They also enable farmers to get better returns for their produce, and help them to market it. It was this that led, in the last reform of the CAP, the EU to put more emphasis on tools to support cooperatives and extend this support to almost all agricultural sectors. The main objective was to promote, encourage and strengthen farmers’ joint action through cooperatives. And this must be continued and built on in the CAP post-2020”, he insisted.
“In an increasingly market oriented sector, the economic role of agricultural cooperatives is becoming more and more important. A successful cooperative also needs to be innovative and to develop products that the consumer wants if they are to bring these rewards to their farmer members”, he explained.
“We must also take into account the heterogeneous situation of cooperatives across the EU. There are some very big cooperatives in countries such as Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden. But the vast majority of the 22 000 cooperatives are small or medium sized. In the future, EU policies must take this into account & allow cooperatives to grow in size and scale. In view of the variable level of cooperative development across the EU, we have been working also with our members on promoting cooperatives in the new Member States, trying to showcase good examples and encourage farmers to join them.This is an area that we will continue to work on,” he added.
“But even in the food value chain where cooperatives tend to be stronger, being Small and Medium Sized-Enterprises (SMEs) requires extra measures at EU level to support them in their business with other partners in the chain. This is why we have been so active within the food chain. We welcome the Slovak Presidency initiative to strengthen farmers positioning in the food chain. And we are very pleased to see strong support for us also in the European Parliament. We believe that our activities in the market place must be backed by common EU policies that would enable the internal market to work better. We want to see movement from the EU Commission here already next year”, he claimed.
“Finally, we need to press ahead with free trade agreements which are beneficial to the EU agriculture sector and use promotion measures to develop our markets further for our quality products. The current free trade negotiations between the EU and Japan must move ahead to reach an agreement the earliest as possible. The future CAP post-2020 must take these elements into account if we are to have a successful agriculture sector in the future. We will develop these ideas further in the months ahead to ensure a viable sector which benefits not only farmers and their cooperatives but also consumers, the environment and the economy at large”, he concluded.
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