Brussels Daily
16 Sep 2015


Brussels Daily

EU must step in now to help member states tackle unfair trading practices, Agriculture MEPs say

EU must better coordinate member states’ efforts to tackle unfair trading practices (UTPs) and the Commission should come up with a legislative proposal that would introduce more balance into the food supply chain and clamp down on practices that have negative consequences for farmers, many members of the Agriculture Committee said in a debate on Tuesday. They welcomed the voluntary Supply Chain Initiative as a step in the right direction but said this alone will not solve the problem.

“The relationship producers have with retailers, with food processors, is fundamental to whether they survive in farming and make a decent income or not. There have been a range of unfair practices which farmers have been victims of because they are the least powerful in the food supply chain,” said rapporteur of the opinion Mairead McGuinness (EPP, IE) during the debate.

“We have this Supply Chain Initiative, which is a voluntary effort. I welcome the fact that it is there (…) the question is, is it effective, is it sufficient and will it deliver the results that we need,” Ms McGuinness said. In the draft opinion she calls for “framework legislation at EU level” that is “essential to tackle UTPs and to address their negative consequences for farmers.” She noted that this approach “might cause the most debate,” but stressed that “we have many different ideas in member states” and “perhaps we need more coordination on the EU level.”

“We only arrived at this place because some of us have worked hard over a long number of years to try and get this issue into a sharp focus. So let us hold that momentum and focus sharply on it,” she concluded.


Enough talking, actions are needed…

Ms McGuinness’ call for an EU legislation was echoed by many MEPs including Ulrike Müller (ALDE, DE) and Alyn Smith (Greens/EFA, UK), who blamed retail concentration in many member states for the current situation. “Voluntary initiatives exist but they do not really help us forward. We need stronger legal framework,” Ms Müller said. “We are not lacking data, what we are lacking is action. We do think that the time has come for legislation. Enough talking. Member states need an obligation under an EU directive specifically about unfair trading practices in the supply chain,” Mr Smith said.

“One of the reasons that we have unfair trading practices is the size of the [retail] companies,” Luke Ming Flanagan (GUE/NGL, IE) agreed. “We need to look at Australia where they have legislation that allows producer groups to do what they need if it is in public interest. We need this as well. We need legislation and we need to get serious about this.”

“We see the voluntary initiatives failing. Producers are weak financially (…) they do not have the contracting strength to stand up against the power of large retailers (…) and often have to submit to contracts that are not fair. It is necessary to become again a united Europe to help our agricultural sector,” said Marco Zullo (EFDD, IT).


… but maybe not necessarily legislative ones

“There is a cross-border element here, lot of retailers are operating in a number of countries. Nevertheless I doubt whether the legislation at EU level is necessarily going to be the answer,” said Richard Ashworth (ECR, UK). He highlighted importance of farmers’ ombudsman saying that “the power to name and shame … is very powerful weapon which major retailers do sit up and take note of” and called for “more emphasis (…) on encouraging and incentivising the supply side to get themselves in a stronger position.”

“One of things we need to ensure is that farmers are actively involved in the Supply Chain Initiative. If we get it right, I do not think there is necessarily a need for legislation. But we do need an EU-wide coordination,” said Paul Brannen (S&D, UK). Inspired by the fair trade label, he also called for “a certification scheme” on the EU level “that would ensure that customers know that farmers are paid a fair price.” He pointed out that there is certain proportion of consumers who would be “willing to pay extra for their EU produced food if there was a guarantee (…) that that extra money was going to go to the European farmer.”


Setting minimum prices and giving more powers to member states

“There is no protection [for farmers] whatsoever given that guaranteed prices have been dropped. What we need to do is ensure that there is a minimum price for our farmers below which they cannot sell,” said Philippe Loiseau (ENF, FR). “Farmers are increasingly getting organised to sell their produce without going via traditional retail chains. A number of member states have taken steps to support farming and that shows how ineffective the CAP is. The solution is, of course, to allow member states to resume their sovereignty,” he added.


Next steps

The debate will feeds into Parliament’s response to the Commission’s communication from July 2014 on ways to tackle UTPs in the food supply chain. The Agriculture Committee will vote its opinion on the matter in November and forward it then to the lead Internal Market Committee, which is expected to vote on the text in December or early next year.


Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development

In the chair: Eric Andrieu (S&D, FR)


REF. : 20150916IPR93406
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