In a written statement, George Eustice (Con, Camborne and Redruth), the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State – who represented the UK at the last Council meeting in Brussels at the end of January – updated Parliament on the Russian import ban. –He said the presidency had accepted Poland’s request for a discussion on the recent reports that some Member States had been approached by Russia to re-open bilateral trade on pig meat.
There has been much talk about the potential for an early end to the Russian food bans, which are due to last until August, especially as attempts for a ceasefire between Russia and Ukraine gathered pace last week. Poland and the Baltic Member States argued that the Russian ban on EU agriculture products was imposed simultaneously on all Member States and therefore should be lifted in the same manner. The UK supports this, and Mr Eustice stressed the need for a united EU approach to Russia.
On dairy, Commissioner Hogan announced that private storage aid (PSA) for butter and skimmed milk powder would remain open until September 2015, but again rejected calls for PSA for cheese. The scheme was wound up early after Italy found a loophole and exhausted its capacity within the first three months.
Mr Hogan agreed to consider the issue of a staggered payment of milk superlevy at the March Council, when more complete production figures for 2014-15 would be available. He also confirmed that he was considering what EU action could be taken to tackle exploitation in the supply chain. On fruit and vegetables, he maintained that the current measures dealing with the fallout from the Russia ban were sufficient. On pig meat, however, he accepted they might have to consider new approaches.
In response to Italy’s concerns about falling EU sugar prices, Commissioner Hogan argued that the EU had benefited from historically high EU prices and stressed that producers had had many years to prepare for the end of quotas.
Earlier this month, a debate in the Commons on the dairy industry threw up similar issues to the meeting last week between MPs, industry lobbyists and banks: should the Voluntary Code be tightened? Should the Grocery Adjudicator have more control over the farm-to-processor end of the food chain (difficult for a two-day-a-week job that’s already overstretched)?
Again, Mr Eustice reiterated that Commissioner Hogan in Brussels is reluctant to do anything to revive intervention for dairy markets. “One of the difficulties is that other farmers in the UK would have to pick up the cost of such action through crisis measures, and we would tend to find that other European countries would benefit most, because although we have low prices here, other European countries have even lower prices,” he said.