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EU Agriculture Ministers on international trade in agricultural products, the situation on agricultural markets and green architecture

EU Ministers responsible for agriculture met today by videoconference. Agriculture was the main item on the agenda. The key discussion revolved around some questions that remain open in tripartite negotiations on the legislative package for the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform, namely the elements of green architecture. They have also discussed the international trade in agricultural products and the situation on agricultural markets in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic. States Secretaries Aleš Irgolič and Anton Harej attended the meeting on the part of Slovenia.

State Secretaries Irgolič and Harej attending the videoconference

State Secretaries Irgolič and Harej attending the videoconference | Author MKGP

The state of play of trialogue negotiations on the legislative package for the CAP reform – the green architecture

The presidency began by reporting on the state of play of the trialogue negotiations on the legislative package for the CAP reform. A significant progress has been made in the recent super trialogue in reference to the new delivery model, the better targeting of direct payments and the control of the implementation of conditionality. The general rule is that "nothing is agreed until everything is agreed". The Ministers held a substantial discussion, during which they touched on the elements of green architecture. In this context, Slovenia considers that the question of flexibility is crucial for the implementation of the eco-scheme, for example introducing a two-year pilot phase and taking into account the measures from the second pillar. We also consider that, in the framework of the compromise package, at least 60% of the payments for areas with natural constraints should be considered in 30% of the earmarked funds for rural development that are intended for the environment and climate. Slovenia recommended several corrections to the propositions of the Presidency on conditionality. It is also particularly important for Slovenia that the obligatory definition of an active farmer is easy to implement and that it does not lead to the exclusion of mixed farms and farms with supplementary activities from the direct payment system. It is therefore essential to maintain the exemption on the basis of EUR 5,000 in direct payments. Nevertheless, Slovenia remains committed to constructively participate in discussions with the aim of reaching a political agreement on the new reformed CAP by June.

International trade in agricultural products

In relation to this agenda item, the Commission opened by reporting on the state of play of EU's bilateral and international agreements with third countries from the point of view of agriculture. This was followed by a more in-depth discussion on the cumulative economic effects of the upcoming trade negotiations in the agricultural sector on the basis of the updated study. Slovenia supports the negotiations for the conclusion of free trade agreements between the EU and third countries. However, it maintains its particular views in relation to sensitive areas, in particular agriculture and food safety standards. Slovenia therefore expects the Commission to ensure that trade negotiations are transparent not only towards the EU institutions but also towards stakeholders and the general public. With regard to the results of the study, Slovenia recommended that the consequences at the regional level should also be analysed in the future. Slovenia also stressed that equal environment and food standards for imported agricultural products should be respected to protect the EU consumers and prevent third country producers from distorting competition.

The situation on agricultural markets during the COVID-19 pandemic

The Ministers continued by taking note of the Commission's report on the current situation on agricultural markets in the wake of the growing number of coronavirus infections. According to the data, the general situation on EU agricultural markets has stabilised. Slovenia welcomes the higher buying-in prices in numerous sectors and, to some extent, also in the pigmeat sector. Stabilisation measures adopted by the EU have also contributed to the price growth. However, it is necessary to recall the situation on the wine market, which has been extremely difficult during the past two years. The State Secretary and several Member States called for additional EU funds for implementing crisis measures in the sector, such as the prolongation of crisis distillation. Slovenia pointed out that the situation on agricultural markets in Slovenia may be additionally affected by the recent frost that occurred in early April. We assume that there will be damage to fruits (apples, pears, stone fruits) and certain types of vegetables (asparagus, early potatoes).

Informative items, other matters: the outcome of the EU Strategy for the protection and welfare of animals (2012-2015) and Germany's initiative on labelling foodstuffs containing eggs with regard to labelling the method of raising laying hens

The Commission presented the outcome of the evaluation of the EU Strategy on the protection and welfare of animals (2012-2015), which covers a slightly longer period from 2012 to 2018 as some measures had been implemented up until 2018. The report notes that the problems and factors that were defined in the Strategy as important in 2012 still persist in 2021. This holds true in particular for animal transport, the routine tail-docking of pigs, stunning methods, etc. Despite this, the Strategy has had a positive impact on animal welfare in the EU. There is also a growing interest of EU citizens for animal welfare, leading to several initiatives that send signals to operators and the industry.

The State Secretary stressed that Slovenia is aware of the importance of a common EU strategy for animal welfare aiming to improve the quality of life of animals in the EU. Slovenia considers that it is crucial that the Commission continues to take proactive action in the field of animal protection, also in view of the objectives of the Farm to Fork Strategy. It is important to plan a possible new strategy and legislation in the spirit of cooperation and consensus between Member States.