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Brussels, 9 April 2003

Results of the Agriculture and Fisheries Council of 8 April 2003

Food Safety

    FMD - progress report

    The Council had a debate on the progress made on the Commission proposal to revise the current legislation on how to prevent and control outbreaks of foot and mouth disease (FMD). Commissioner Byrne said: "The current proposal is a reform, not a revolution. It confirms our approach to prevention and control of FMD outbreaks."

    The Council Members specifically discussed the regionalisation of affected areas in the case of an outbreak, which is an agreed principle in the International Animal Health Organisation (OIE) and has long been enshrined in EU legislation on animal health conditions for trade and imports. Mr Byrne assured Member States who were concerned that third countries would respect the principle that the Commission will continue to address the issue of regionalisation during trade or equivalence negotiations with third countries. "However, I also said I cannot guarantee that all third countries would unconditionally accept regionalisation and other control measures, including emergency vaccination, applied in the case of FMD."

    Ministers also spoke about the use of emergency vaccination in the event of an outbreak and agreed that it should be used as a frontline response.

    Avian Influenza in the Netherlands

    The Dutch Minister updated the Council on the situation regarding avian influenza in the Netherlands. Unfortunately the disease has spread to an area in the Netherlands which is close to the borders with Belgium and Germany. The German and Belgian ministers therefore informed the Council about the precautions their countries have taken to avoid an outbreak on their territory. Commissioner Byrne said that since the beginning of the epidemic on 28 February, the Dutch authorities have closely worked together with the Commission and bordering Member States to tackle the disease. "The Commission has met with the Member States 5 times to review the situation and 8 Commission Decisions have been taken in this respect with unanimous support of all Member States."

    Nitrofurans in Portugal

    The Portuguese Agriculture Minister updated the Council on the on-going action plan to control Portuguese food of animal origin for residues of the illegally used veterinary drug nitrofuran. Commissioner Byrne said: "Regrettably this illegal substance has found to be extensively used in Portuguese poultry farming and beyond. The action plan established by Portugal to get control of the situation is ongoing.

    We are examining the results carefully in order to ensure that all the appropriate measures are being taken. I recognise the efforts made by the Portuguese authorities towards identifying the origin of the problem. The current situation in Portugal demonstrates that our rigorous residue monitoring system is working and that improved detection and testing methods are contributing to our primary objective of ensuring the safety of food and the health of our citizens." He also requested Member States again to submit to the Commission the results of their monitoring for nitrofurans.

    Control of Hygiene of products of animal origin

    Commissioner Byrne gave a progress report on the state of play of the legislative proposal to the Council. He made clear that the recently proposed law on official food and feed controls contains the general rules to apply to official controls on all food and feed.

    The 'Hygiene 3' (5 proposals on hygiene are currently in the co-decision procedure) proposal on the agenda of the Council, by contrast, contains specific rules for official controls on products of animal origin. It would apply in addition to the proposal on official feed and food controls.

    Mr Byrne also spoke about the role of the official veterinarian.

    The official veterinarian has a key role to play in the official controls on meat production. The knowledge and skills of the official veterinarian are essential for the design and implementation of science- and risk-based meat inspection. "This, however, does not preclude some flexibility as regards the presence of the official veterinarian in abattoirs and I encouraged the Council to work towards that objective."


    CAP reform

    The Council had a political discussion about the Commission's reform package, especially the proposal to cut the link between subsidy and production ("De-coupling"). Commissioner Fischler recalled that an important objective of the reform proposal was to enable farmers to take advantage of market opportunities. "Where we want to maintain a certain production, it might well be advisable to maintain a link of direct payments to production. Such elements can be found in our proposal for durum wheat, rice and protein crops. In any case must we develop our direct payment system in a way that ensures that beneficiaries of support are committed to good land management practices. Furthermore, we have to simplify our support system. With the introduction of the single farm payment, we would reduce the number of types of direct payments significantly, nine different types would be incorporated into one. The new budget ceilings have to be respected. This makes digression and modulation unavoidable."

    Fischler further said that the Commission was willing to show flexibility to address problems raised in the discussions. "I am ready to consider changes to avoid competitive disadvantages for traditional, specialised producers of fruit and vegetables. As to compulsory set-aside, I could imagine continuing with the rotational system. A third point requiring clarifications is the issue of special entitlements. These are relevant for farmers who receive animal payments while have no or only little land under their disposal. I accept that the proposed type of "special entitlements" is relatively rigid and I am open for more flexible solutions.

    With respect to the concrete application and the scope for a regional differentiation of payment levels some need for clarification has become obvious. I gave instructions to analyse the scope for more flexible solutions requested by various Member States. Regarding the inclusion of the outermost regions into the reformed direct payment scheme I am open for suggestions. Finally, I would like to take up concerns of many Member States on the administrative implementation of Cross-Compliance. I am ready to analyse the possibilities for a step-wise introduction of linking direct payments to Cross-Compliance standards.", Fischler said.

    The Council will further discuss this matter.

    WTO agriculture modalities

    Following an update by Commissioner Fischler, the Council held a debate on the state of play of the WTO agriculture talks. "I very much regret that WTO members were not able to meet the 31 March deadline to agree on the modalities for the WTO agriculture negotiations. I am encouraged by the reactions of the WTO membership. In both the concluding agricultural Special Session on 31 March and in the Trade Negotiating Committee last week, the general attitude was constructive. I am also encouraged that the Chair and members now realise what we have being saying all along, that a more comprehensive approach is needed, and that much more detailed technical work still needs to be accomplished. There will be a number of technical meetings in the interval before the next Special Session meeting to be held in June.", Fischler stressed.

    State aid for Italian co-operatives

    The Council decided to authorise state aid for Italian co-operatives. In response, the Commissioner declared "The Commission is afraid that these aids are granted without the necessary transparency and may lead to distortions of competition."

    Initiative for sub-Saharan Africa

    Spain raised the question of the French initiative in the framework of the G-8 for sub-Saharan Africa. The French proposal concentrates on three pillars: better market access, a moratorium of all forms of export subsidies and measures to address commodity prices. Commissioner Fischler welcomed this initiative which should lead to a joint EU proposal in the G-8. "We believe it is important to improve preferential market access granted to Sub-Saharan African countries. How to reach this objective, however, requires careful scrutiny. We welcome the French proposal on a moratorium of all form of export support.

    The EU should indeed propose a moratorium for all forms of agricultural export subsidies, including export credits, food aid and exports from state trading enterprises, applied to exports to sub-Saharan Africa for the duration of the negotiations of the Doha Development Agenda.", he pointed out.

    The Council took note of the comments made.

    Wine negotiations with Canada and US

    The Commission gave an update on the negotiations on wine and spirits agreements with Canada and the US. Fischler underlined the substantial benefits EU wine producers could reap from an agreement with Canada, such as a clear path to the protection of EU geographical indications or a list of oenological practices. "The negotiation with Canada has been extremely difficult. Now we have a draft agreement on the table. Obviously, it does not meet all demands.

    But: not having a deal would mean losing the opportunity to protect the EU names on one of our best export markets for a very long time. We have to take a decision now.", he warned. Turning to the wine negotiations with the United States, Fischler said that the use of "semi-generic" names, the definition of wine, or EU labelling rules were still open. "We will continue to negotiate but there is still a long way to go before reaching an agreement.", he explained.

    The Council took note of the Commission's efforts, the matter was referred to the Special Committee of Agriculture (SCA).

    Conference on the protection of forests in Europe

    Austria informed the Council about the fourth Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Forests in Europe to be held in Vienna from 28 to 30 April 2003. The Commission has actively taken part in the preparation of the Vienna Conference. Several EU actions concerning forestry are contributing to the implementation of the commitments undertaken by this pan-European process. The conference will provide to the forest policy decision makers a sound political reference platform for the promotion of sustainable forest management specifically adapted to European forest conditions.

    Euro-Mediterranean conference on fisheries and agriculture

    Italy presented an initiative to hold a Euro-Mediterranean conference on fisheries and agriculture during the Italian Presidency. Mr Fischler commented: "As to the agriculture conference, we need further co-ordination in Council about the topics discussed."

    Natural disasters in Greece

    Greece informed the Council about damages caused by adverse weather conditions. The Commission underlined the importance of concrete information about the damage before taking further measures.


    Improving scientific and technical advice for EU fisheries management

    The Council took note of the Communication presented by the Commission on ways to improve scientific advice needed by the EU for fisheries management. This document is part of the package of Commission proposals and Action Plans to reform the CFP. In his presentation, Commissioner Fischler underlined the need for the new Common Fisheries Policy to have a firm basis in science and analysis, committed EU support to international fisheries science as well as the availability of scientists to advise managers on fisheries issues as and when they happen. The Commission's Communication examined both short- and long-term measures to meet those needs (see IP/03/297).

    Fishing effort and additional conditions for monitoring, inspection and surveillance in the context of recovery of certain cod stocks

    The Council reached political agreement on a number of amendments to the temporary measures concerning the fishing effort regime applying to some cod fisheries in EU waters since 1 February 2003. As a whole, the Council followed the Commission proposal (see IP/03/489) which aimed to clarify some elements of the regime adopted by the Council last December and to introduce some flexibility in order to allow for an effective, fair and non-discriminatory application of the fishing effort scheme.

    Agreement was reached on some changes which, in the Commission's view, do not impinge on the effectiveness of the provisional effort limitation scheme for the recovery of certain cod stocks.

    The adopted temporary effort scheme is due to stay in place until a definitive cod recovery plan, which will be proposed by the Commission in a few weeks' time, is adopted later on this year.

    Emergency measures for Baltic Sea cod

    The Commission informed the Council that it intends to adopt emergency measures to prohibit trawl fishing for cod and flatfish in the Baltic Sea for the period starting mid-April until the end of May 2003 when the summer ban on cod fishing begins. "These measures, which were discussed with the Member States and the fishermen concerned, aim to protect juvenile cod entering the incoming year class of Baltic cod from trawl fishing which, according to recent information, is taking large quantities of undersized cod. They will therefore contribute to accelerating the recovery of the cod stocks. A specific surveillance programme will be put in place in consultation with national control experts.", Commissioner Fischler said.

    The Commission also announced its intention to look at possible adjustments to the Baltic cod recovery plan as it appears that there is a need to improve the selectivity in the trawl fishery. An initiative will be taken within the International Baltic Sea Fishery Commission to reassess the cod recovery plan so that necessary adjustments may be made possibly before the cod fishery reopens on 1 September 2003 after the summer ban.

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