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MEMO/04/155

Brussels, 22 June 2004

Outcome of Agriculture/Fisheries Council of June 2004

Fisheries

“Promoting Environmentally-Friendly Fishing Methods: The Role of Technical Conservation Measures” – Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament

The Council adopted conclusions on promoting more environmentally-friendly fishing methods based on a Commission communication calling for an integrated management approach to help maintain healthy fish stocks in a balanced environment. Such an approach would combine conservation measures, in particular technical measures, and the development of environmentally-friendly fishing in order to:

  • reduce fishing effort and maintain it at sustainable levels,
  • optimise catches of target species and minimise unwanted catches, and
  • minimise the impact of fishing on marine habitats.

The Council welcomed the Commission communication and agreed that making fishing activities more environmentally friendly would contribute to a sustainable fishing industry. It therefore invited the Commission to proceed with the proposed measures which include:

  • identifying, by the end of next year, the potential for the provision of financial and non-financial incentives to encourage fishermen to move towards more environmentally-friendly fishing methods;
  • proposing, after consultation with stakeholders and the relevant Regional Advisory Councils, simplified technical rules for the Atlantic and the North Sea;
  • giving priority to a number of research areas, such as the application of environmentally-friendly gear technology that prevent undesired effects on habitats and non-target species, the study of the structure and dynamics of marine ecosystems and the use of closed areas. International research bodies will be asked to extend their studies so as to provide eco-system based advice for fisheries management;
  • developing pilot projects, in cooperation with stakeholders and Member States, to reduce discards and to address the problem of “ghost fishing” (i.e. lost fishing gear in the sea which continues to trap fish);

The Commission will report on the implementation and impact of these actions in 2007.

Council Regulation fixing the maximum annual fishing effort for certain fishing areas and fisheries (“Western waters implementation”)

The Council reached a political agreement on a Regulation setting the maximum level of fishing effort for a number of fisheries in each fishing area of the so-called “western waters” which extend from the Canary Islands and the Azores to the north and north-west of Ireland and the UK. These limitations of effort complete the new regime adopted by the Council last October.

The discussion focussed mainly on the calculation of the effort ceilings which, according to the Commission proposal, had to take into account the annual average effort exerted by the vessels operating in the area covered during the reference period 1998-2002. Information on their vessels’ fishing effort was provided by each of the Member State concerned. However, given some differences in the methods applied to estimate the average fishing effort of the fleets, clarification was needed on the effort to be allocated in a number of areas, in particular ICES area VII. This area includes the biologically sensitive area established on the south-west of Ireland where Council had decided that specific effort ceilings would apply to vessels greater than or equal to 10 metres. Outside this zone, effort limits had to be set for vessels of 15 metres in length and above.

Fishing effort was allocated on the basis of kilowatt/days which Member States concerned will share among their fleets. Member States will have to ensure that their fleets spend no more time fishing in each of the areas concerned than during the reference period. These provisions should ensure that the new regime in the western waters generates neither an increase in fishing effort nor major shifts of effort between areas.

The fisheries concerned include demersal fisheries (species living close to the sea floor) as well as fisheries for scallops, edible crabs and spider crabs.

Proposal for a Council Regulation establishing a Community Fisheries Control Agency and amending Regulation (EC) n°2847/93 establishing a control system applicable to the Common Fisheries Policy

The Council had an exchange of views on the Commission proposal to establish a Community Fisheries Control Agency which is a key part of the EU drive to improve compliance with the rules of the Common Fisheries Policy under the 2002 reform of the CFP.

In his presentation of the Commission proposal, Commissioner Fischler said that patchy enforcement of fisheries measures had undermined their effectiveness. He explained that the Agency would be in charge of operational co-ordination of fisheries control by pooling EU and national means of monitoring and inspection resources. It will develop joint deployment plans according to a strategy established at EU level, targeting specific stocks identified as being under threat. This would help tackle the shortcomings in enforcement resulting from the disparities in the means and priorities of the control systems in the Member States. The setting-up of multi-national teams to carry out inspections in areas where several Member States have an interest will bring savings as well as more rational deployment of resources.

The Agency’s tasks will also include training of fisheries inspectors, which will help develop a common approach to fisheries inspection throughout the EU, as well as the co-ordination of the implementation of joint pilot projects to test new control and inspection technologies and the development of joint operational control procedures.

The Agency could also provide services for Member States such as chartering of inspection vessels or deployment of observers within the framework of Regional Fisheries Organisations. The organisation of such tasks at the EU level would be more cost-effective than by Member States individually.

The Council welcomed the Commission proposal which will now be discussed at the technical level also taking into account the results of a study on operational aspects currently under way.

Miscellaneous

Ban on herring fishing in the Baltic Sea – Dioxins

The Danish delegation informed the Council of the ban introduced in Denmark on the fishing and landing for human consumption of herring caught in the Eastern Baltic. The ban on landing also applies to vessels from other countries fishing in the Eastern Baltic. Denmark set up this ban following the discovery of levels of dioxin exceeding the limit values in samples of herring caught in this area.

Agriculture

Public debate on organic farming

The Council held a public debate on the Commission’s proposal for an organic action plan. The reform of the CAP, and in particular decoupling of support, presents great opportunities for farmers to reorient their production in this way. Therefore, the message Commissioners Franz Fischler and Sandra Kalniete passed, was to appeal to Member States, especially the new Member States, to make full use of measures already available to support organic farming, and in particular measures to expand and develop the market. According to the action plan, the EU-logo should be a central part of an EU-wide information campaign as it is an essential instrument to increase the visibility of organic produce, and increase consumer awareness. At the same time a more widely use of the EU-logo will remove some of the obstacles to the internal trade, due to the different private standards, which we often see today.

The aim of the Action Plan is to set out the EU’s vision for the future of the organic farming sector and the role of public policy measures in its development. “If market opportunities for farmers do not exist, they will not see organic farming as a promising avenue. Healthy and sustained growth of the organic sector is only possible provided market demand is increasing”, Mr Fischler said.

Commissioner Kalniete turned to one of the more controversial issues, namely the presence of genetically modified organisms. Last year, the Commission set out guidelines for Member States concerning the co-existence of GMOs with conventional and organic farming. “It is important that all Member States use these guidelines and establish national rules for coexistence as soon as possible. On the GM thresholds question, voices call for a lower limit for organic than for conventional product labelled as “GM free”. I believe this is could be a difficult path to follow. We might end up with some product being described as “free” and other product described as “more free” ! That would only confuse consumers. Therefore, there are surely strong arguments to support the view that thresholds for conventional and organic product should be considered together”, Ms. Kalniete claimed.

Beef labelling

Ministers discussed the Commission report on beef labelling. On the question of introducing an “origin: EU” label, Commissioner Fischler noted that a majority of member states prefer the status quo, reject an EU label, more flexibility for minced meat producers, or extending the scope of application of the beef labelling regulation.

Mercosur

Commissioner Fischler updated the ministers on the ongoing EU-Mercosur negotiations. He assured them that the conditioned EU offer on agriculture did not put at stake the recent reforms of the Common Agricultural Policy. The recent CAP reforms have created a certain margin of manoeuvre in the EU’s international negotiations. “We are negotiating under that margin. While the product coverage under the Mercosur offer on agriculture is now more comprehensive, it is still below our expectations concerning the pace of dismantling and the degree of tariff reduction on sensitive products. We also condition our offer to Mercosur on an agreement in wines and spirit drinks as well as the protection on the Mercosur market of EU geographical indications for other food products (cheese, ham etc.) This was made very clear in the negotiations last week in Buenos Aires stressing that we need improvement in these areas”, he stressed.

Following last weeks discussions with Mercosur in Buenos Aires and the Ministerial in Sao Paulo, the Commission still considers that the Mercosur offer does not match ours in our offensive sectors (services, investment, government procurement). The negotiations will now continue with a further round foreseen for July, in Brussels. For the Commission the importance lies in concluding a good agreement rather than the timing.

WTO negotiations

Mr. Fischler brought his colleagues up to date on where we are in the negotiations particularly in the light of a meeting of the Core Group (EU, US, Brazil, India and Australia) at the level of trade Ministers, which took place in Sao Paulo last week end. There now appears to be acceptance of an important principle that the EU has been pushing hard, namely that there has to be a similar level of precision in the areas of market access, domestic support and export competition in the framework.

“We had made it very clear that we could not accept a text which had clear commitments on export competition and domestic support with only vague language on market access, for example. On domestic support the EU continues to be in an offensive position following CAP reform. In fact the main emphasis now in the negotiations is on how to ensure that the US will have to undertake real reforms and not simply content itself with some rather minor adjustments. The letter which Pascal Lamy and I wrote to all WTO members has been considered a very useful input in the process, particularly as regards export competition. As a consequence some of our partners such as the US, Australia and Canada now are finding it rather uncomfortable to be asked to match up to the EU’s offer in the field of export competition. We will be continuing to push very hard on parallelism in Geneva next week and in the coming weeks”, Mr. Fischler concluded.

Memorandum on renewable resources

Mr. Fischler welcomed the memorandum put forward by Germany, France, Poland and Austria. “Biomass have an increasingly important role to play when it comes to the sustainable energy production.

The 2003 CAP reform contained important elements to boost renewable energy, such as the cultivation on set aside land or support for energy crops. The Commission will submit a biomass plan by the end of 2005. This plan will be aimed at optimising the EU financial support, tackling the obstacles to biomass deployment and using unexploited biomass potential especially in new member states”, the Commissioner said.

Import duties for rice

Mr. Fischler updated ministers on the ongoing negotiations about changing the import duties and fixing new import duties for rice in the framework of the WTO. “In the last month, several meeting have taken place with the US, India, Pakistan and Thailand. The talks continue and I hope that we can conclude as soon as possible. The Commission will take the interests of EU rice growers and importers into account”, Mr. Fischler said.

Food Security

Negotiations with Russia on EU exports of animal products

Commissioner David Byrne updated the Member States on the ongoing discussions with the Russian authorities to achieve agreement on the future mechanism to export EU animal products to Russia until the end of September. Member States showed full support to the ongoing talks and were also prepared to give assistance at all required levels to this process. Byrne made clear that this week a Commission delegation will again be in Moscow to make a final effort to resolve the situation at technical level. He also said that he would himself be prepared to intervene if necessary. He expressed his confidence that progress could be made but said he was not convinced that the Russian authorities were willing to achieve a solution. The Commission will continue to push for a full and satisfactory result.


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