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Brussels, 18 December 2003
Outcome of Agriculture/Fisheries Council of December 2003
Reform of tobacco, olive oil, cotton and hops sectors
The Council held a debate on the Commission's legal proposals. On olive oil, Commissioner Fischler stressed the importance of a significant de-coupling of the aid and avoiding the disappearance of traditional, ecologically important groves by keeping an element linked to production. As to cotton, Mr Fischler insisted that the proposal to keep 40% of the aid coupled would on the one hand avoid abandonment of production, on the other would not lead to a further boost in cotton production with its negative impact on the environment. On tobacco, the Commissioner rejected the idea of a partial decoupling. "This would mean that producers would just grow tobacco to receive their premia. This would neither be in line with the objective of sustainable development, nor with the reform goals to achieve more market orientation and quality production." As to hops, he stressed the importance that the membership in producer organizations be voluntary.
Situation on the European pork market
Due to the current crisis situation in the pork sector, several delegations asked the Commission to introduce market support measures. " I share the view that the pig meat market in the present crisis must be supported. The Commission submitted therefore a proposal to the Management Committee to introduce aid for private storage. Applications for this aid can be lodged as from Monday, 22 December 2003 and the conditions for this measure are the same as last year. The reintroduction of refunds however would be a step in the wrong direction. Since summer 2000 the refunds for these products have been put to zero and nevertheless our operators succeeded to participate actively in the world trade. We should continue this policy. In addition, the reintroduction of refunds would increase the international criticism of this instrument and our future work within the framework of the WTO negotiations would become more difficult"", Mr Fischler said.
The Council decided to reduce the rate for compulsory set-aside for cereals from January 2004 in order to stabilise the EU grain market which has been negatively affected by this summer's drought.
US wine imports
In the light of the ongoing EU-US negotiations on a bilateral agreement on trade of wine, the Council adopted a Commission proposal to extend the derogation that authorizes the marketing in the European Union of the US wines which underwent oenological practices not admitted by the EU.
The UK raised the issue of Basmati rice. The Commission is currently reviewing the import regime for basmati rice from India and Pakistan with the aim of having a more accurate definition of the rice that can benefit from the duty abatement of EUR 250 per ton. The objective is to tighten control of imports of Basmati rice, that are recognised by all the parties involved to be subject to a high risk of fraud. The Commission believes that a differentiation between traditional and hybrid varieties of rice is warranted. Only traditional varieties with the highest market prices should benefit from the abatement. Another aspect which is just as important is the consideration that the current regulation dating from 1996 specifies that the abatement is also given to hybrid varieties, as the price of certain varieties of hybrid basmati rice were around the same level as the price of pure line varieties. Prices have since evolved and clearly show that hybrid varieties do not play in the same market as traditional varieties.
The Commission feels that it is essential to preserve the quality and reputation of Basmati rice, in the interest of both the producing countries and the European consumer. The spirit of the abatement is indeed to recognize the specificity of Basmati rice and the high price which it commands. "We are of course open to receiving all relevant information on the evolution of prices which the producer countries may wish to communicate to us"", Commissioner Fischler said.
Sheep and goats' identification and registration
Ministers adopted a Regulation on the identification and registration of sheep and goats as part of ongoing efforts to prevent the spread of animal diseases. Stopping animal disease epidemics requires quick action. To do this it must be possible to quickly determine an animal's place of origin and its movements throughout the EU. The Regulation will reinforce current measures, specifically by gradually introducing in all Member States an identification system to mark each animal, making it possible to trace the individual movements of sheep and goats. Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner David Byrne welcomed Council's adoption: "The foot and mouth disease crisis showed us the urgency of having systems in place to prevent the spread of contagion. The tagging system introduced by this Regulation will make it possible to rapidly determine where animals come from and where they have been, making it possible to trace the movements of infected animals. Great care has been taken to make sure the practical implications of this legislation do not become a burden for farmers". (for further information see IP/03/1761)
Ministers discussed a progress report on the Commission's proposal for a Regulation on animal transport (see IP/03/1023). To improve enforcement, the Regulation identifies the chain of all those involved in animal transport and who is responsible for what as well as introducing efficient enforcement tools, such as checks via the tachograph. The Commission's proposal also foresees much stricter rules for journeys of more than 9 hours which mirror other EU legislation governing the time that drivers can spend on the road. David Byrne said: "The Commission has a strong desire to see substantial improvements in the protection of animals transported in the European Union. The 'state of play' presented today highlights that, following the analysis of the experts in the Council, the Commission proposal attracts broad support on several key aspects. I hope that the current momentum can be sustained and that the positive results achieved thus far will motivate future work, under the Irish Presidency, in order to reach an early agreement on the issue."
The European Parliament will organise a public hearing on the subject in January 2004 and is expected to provide its opinion by April next year. Currently about 10% of animal transport in the EU consists of long distance transport.
Food and feed controls
Ministers discussed a progress report on the Commission's proposal for a Regulation on official food and feed controls (see IP/03/182 and MEMO/03/24). The proposed Regulation will streamline and reinforce the existing control system with added bite, consisting of stricter enforcement mechanisms. The proposal aims to cure weaknesses in current legislation by improving the efficiency of control services performed by both Member States and the Commission. It defines tougher enforcement measures. It also creates a framework to support developing countries in meeting EU import requirements and provides for a financial framework to organise activities that enhance food and feed safety. Commissioner Byrne emphasised that the Regulation had to have a wide scope, covering controls on food and feed, but also animal health and welfare. However, it was not the Commission's intention that the Regulation should interfere with how control services are organised in individual Member States.
Pesticides: maximum residue levels in products of plant and animal origin
The Italian Council Presidency presented a progress report on the negotiations in the Council working groups. Commissioner David Byrne thanked Italy for the priority with which the issue was dealt with during its Presidency. He said: "The purpose of the Commission's proposal is the harmonisation, at the European level, of the maximum residue levels (MRLs) of pesticides permitted in products of plant and animal origin. I understand the Irish Presidency has great ambitions with this project and has already scheduled a series of expert meetings. I also look forward to an early first reading in the European Parliament, especially given that this is such an important consumer protection issue." (see IP/03/383).
Under Any Other Business, Ministers discussed feed hygiene and the progress made so far in the Council on the Commission's proposal for a new Regulation on hygiene requirements for animal feed. (see IP/03/567). They also discussed the state-of-play of negotiations with Russia on veterinary matters. The aim is to sign an agreement in this regard in April 2004.
The Agriculture and Fisheries Council was held in Brussels on 17-19 December 2003. In addition to setting fishing possibilities for 2004, Fisheries Ministers had to decide on the establishment of recovery plans for cod and Northern hake stocks which, according to scientific advice, are in danger of collapse.
These decisions were very closely linked as the Commission had warned that its proposals on fishing possibilities (or Total Allowable Catches TACs) had been prepared on the assumption that long-term recovery plans would be established. If its proposals on recovery plans had not been adopted, more stringent short-term limitations of fishing possibilities would have had to be applied.
Speaking after the Council, Commissioner Franz Fischler, in charge of Agriculture, Rural Development and Fisheries said: "At the beginning of this Council meeting I said that these talks were a test of how seriously the Union wanted to take its new, reformed fishery policy, based on social and environmental sustainability. I can say today that we have passed this test: we have a recovery plan for cod; the basic principles for a recovery plan for sole, southern hake and Nephrops have been agreed; we have a political agreement on a recovery plan for northern hake and we have a whole raft of measures to support quota management until long-term measures are in place. These decisions are in tune with scientific advice."
TACs 2004 - Proposal for a Council Regulation fixing, for 2004, the fishing opportunities and associated conditions for certain fish stocks and groups of fish stocks, applicable in Community waters and, for Community vessels, in waters where limitations in catch are required
Interim effort limitation and additional conditions for monitoring inspection and surveillance in the context of the recovery of certain fish stocks (Annex V)
In view of the high risk of collapse of a number of cod stocks and the difficulty of controlling compliance with low catch limits, scientists from the International Council for the Exploration for the Sea (ICES) and the Scientific, Technical, Economic Committee on Fisheries (STECF) had recommended for the second year running a moratorium on the fisheries concerned. They had also advised no fishing for other stocks now also in danger of collapse. Because of the potential economic and social impact of such a measure on the fleets concerned and after consultation with the industry, the Commission had proposed, as an alternative to a moratorium, substantially reduced fishing possibilities for a number of stocks as well as fishing effort limitations and control measures to ensure their proper implementation.
The stocks concerned included certain cod and cod-related fisheries as well other endangered stocks, such as northern and southern hake, sole in the western Channel and the Bay of Biscay, as well as Nephrops off the Iberian peninsula.
As a result of the adoption of long-term measures both for the most depleted cod stocks and for northern hake, and of the agreement that recovery plans for endangered sole, southern hake and Norway lobster stocks should be adopted as early as possible in 2004, less severe TAC reductions than initially proposed could be agreed, mainly for cod and associated stocks.
For example, the TACs for Celtic Sea cod stocks and stocks associated with recovery stocks in this area were reduced by : 15% (instead of by 47% as initially proposed) for cod in the Celtic Sea, West of Ireland and the English Channel, by 15% (instead of 55.5%) for whiting and by 15% (instead of 33%) for sole; in the Bay of Biscay, TACs for anglerfish and whiting, which are associated with recovery stocks, were reduced respectively by 42.5% (instead of 71.25%) and by 21% (instead of almost 60%).
The Council's request that Commission proposals be presented to incorporate within existing recovery plans stocks newly identified as being below safe biological limits, also permitted less stringent measures this year. For example, the TAC for plaice in the North Sea was reduced by 17% instead of by 41% as initially proposed.
The Council also decided to retain and extend the scope of the interim measures restricting fishing effort adopted by the Council in December 2002 to protect certain cod stocks. These measures which have applied in the Skagerrak, Kattegat, the North Sea and west of Scotland since 1 February 2003 will now also include the eastern Channel and the Irish Sea. The aim is to limit the number of days that vessels spend in the areas concerned fishing for endangered stocks so as to prevent overshooting of quotas. Reinforced inspection and control measures have also been adopted in this context. These measures will become applicable from 1 February 2004 and will remain until the Council agrees alternative measures to replace them, possibly along the lines of the Kilowatt/days system proposed by the Commission.
The table below shows the maximum number of days in any month for which a vessel may be present within an area covered by the adopted regime and absent from port, having carried on board any one of the fishing gears listed below.
Table I Maximum days by area and fishing gear
(b) beam trawls of mesh size equal to or greater than 80 mm
(c) static demersal nets including gill nets, trammel nets and tangle nets;
(d) demersal long lines;
(e) demersal trawls, seines or similar towed gears of mesh size between 70 mm and 99 mm except beam trawls with mesh size between 80 mm and 99 mm;
(f) demersal trawls, seines or similar towed gears of mesh size between 16 mm and 31 mm except beam trawls;
More flexibility has been built into the measures, with Member States able to allow vessel owners to aggregate the days out of port within management periods of up to eleven months. Additionally, it will be possible under certain conditions to use two of the groupings of fishing gear and receive the average number of days for the two.
An additional number of days may be allocated to Member States which have decommissioned part of their fleet since 1 January 2002. They will receive a proportionate number of additional days for those vessels remaining.
A number of control measures will apply, especially with regard to reporting rules and designated ports to ensure the effectiveness of the recovery measures.
In the Irish Sea, measures relating to the temporary closing of an area during the cod spawning period will be maintained in 2004. In view of the reduced fishing mortality implied by this closure, an additional two days will be available for vessels in groupings of fishing gear (a) and (b) which spend more than half their allocated days in a given management period fishing in the Irish Sea.
Derogations from the number of days indicated in the table above may be allocated by Member States to vessels whose fishing activities only carries a very limited amount of by-catch of cod, sole or plaice, under the following conditions:
Recovery measures for endangered stocks
As announced by Commissioner Fischler, the Council adopted a long-term recovery plan for certain cod stocks. This proposal had been adopted by the Commission last May. Council also reached political agreement, pending the opinion of the European Parliament, on a recovery plan for northern hake tabled last June. These long-term measures for cod and northern hake were initially tabled under a single proposal two years ago.
Furthermore, Council asked the Commission to propose recovery measures for sole in the western Channel and Bay of Biscay and for the southern hake stock and the Norway lobster stock in the Cantabrian Sea and western Iberian waters to be adopted as early as possible in 2004. Proposals will also be tabled to incorporate into the existing recovery plans those stocks identified as being in danger of collapse. These include cod and plaice in the Celtic Sea, whiting in the Irish Sea and plaice in the North Sea. Consultation with the forthcoming Regional Advisory Councils is envisaged in the preparation of these proposals.
In the 2002 CFP reform, the Council had agreed to abandon short-term decisions which cannot effectively protect fish stocks, let alone allow for the rebuilding of depleted ones, and instead to apply a multi-annual approach to fisheries management. This involves the establishment of recovery plans for the most endangered stocks and multi-annual management plans to prevent other stocks from falling below safe biological limits.
EU funds are available to cushion the effects of depleted stocks and reduced fishing opportunities. It is up to Member States to avail themselves of these funds.
Proposals for Council Regulations establishing measures for the recovery of cod and Northern hake stocks
The objective of these recovery plans is to achieve an increase over a number of years (5 to 10) in the quantities of adult fish in the stocks concerned up to levels set according to the precautionary approach for each of the threatened stocks. To reach this objective, the plans provide for a reduction of fishing mortality through: the establishment of harvesting rules over the long term leading to the setting of TACs at levels that should permit an annual increase in the stock size. This increase has been set at 30% in the case of cod. For Northern hake, the strategy involves a cut in fishing mortality of 4% in the first year. The same rate in fishing mortality (0.25) will be maintained in the following years. According to the most recent scientific advice, the state of this stock is less severe now than it was when the initial proposal was tabled two years ago. Except for the first year of application of the TACs under these recovery plans, fluctuations in TACs from one year to the next will be limited to 15% either up or down. However, the reduction could be greater if the stock concerned is at a critical level.
Cod recovery plan
The cod recovery plan covers stocks in Kattegat, North Sea, Skagerrak and the eastern Channel, west of Scotland and Irish Sea. Restrictions of fishing effort in line with the harvesting rules are also foreseen in the recovery plan for cod to ensure that cod TACs are not overshot.
These measures have been established within the above TAC Regulation, fixing for each area covered by the Regulation a specific number of days which the vessels concerned will be allowed to spend in the corresponding area. Furthermore, additional conditions for monitoring, inspection and surveillance have been established to ensure compliance with the measures.
Control of fishing effort is a central pillar in this recovery plan. Experience has shown - and scientific advice has confirmed - that TACs and quotas on the one hand and technical measures on the other are not sufficient to regulate fishing mortality, particularly when, as at present, fishing capacity is too large for the available fish resources.
In mixed fisheries, such as these cod fisheries, several species are caught together as fishing continues until all the TACs for all the species concerned have been caught. In the process the low TACs for some species such as cod are overshot. This is one of the main reasons why scientists have long been advising limits on fishing effort.
Hake recovery plan
The plan relates to the northern hake stock that is found in the Kattegat, Skagerrak, the North Sea, the Channel, waters to the west of Scotland, all around Ireland and in the Bay of Biscay.
The TAC will be set at a level that implies a fishing mortality rate of 0.25 until the target biomass (adult population in the stock) of 140.000 tonnes has been reached.
Proposal for a Council Regulation fixing for the 2004 fishing year the guide prices and Community producer prices for certain fishery products pursuant to Regulation (EC) N° 104/2000
The Council fixed the guide prices for a specified number of fisheries products of Community importance, as well as the producer price for certain tuna products, for 2004. The Council's decision is very close to the Commission's proposal and follows its rationale to reflect the prevailing market price trends and to discourage withdrawals of fisheries products from the market.
The 2004 decision, therefore, provides for :
The guide prices fixed annually by the Council are the basis for the operation of the intervention mechanisms (withdrawal prices, selling prices and certain reference prices). They aim to support fishermen income by providing a safety net in the case of market disturbances. The guide prices are based on the average prices over the preceding three years across the EU. Trends in recent production and demand trends as well as the need to avoid withdrawals are taken into account when fixing guide prices.