April 14. 2024. 5:53

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Swedish minister expects job only half done on pesticide reduction plan

A common position among the EU agriculture ministers on the sustainable use of pesticides regulation (SUR) will not be reached under the Swedish EU presidency, Swedish Agriculture Minister Peter Kullgren told EURACTIV in an exclusive interview.

The contentious but ambitious proposal aims to slash the use and risk of pesticides in half by 2030, as set out in the EU’s flagship food policy, the Farm to Fork strategy (F2F).

But progress on the file has not been smooth-running, with EU agriculture ministers formally demanding last June an additional impact assessment to the Commission to get more information before proceeding, effectively stalling negotiations on the crucial file.

However, the Swedish minister told EURACTIV that, on the parts of the file not linked to the impact assessment, EU ministers “intend to start working on compromise texts based on the contributions of the member states”, with the “most likely aim of presenting a progress report in June”.

“We intend to continue the examination of the Commission’s proposal and take the file forward,” Kullgren said.

Asked whether he expects to seal a deal on a common position of the EU ministers ahead of the talks with the European Parliament before the end of the presidency, the minister said that until the Commission provides the information requested by the Council, the most “optimistic objective would be an agreement on certain specific articles, but not a full general approach”.

The comments come on the back of news that the European Parliament’s agriculture committee (AGRI) is not prepared to give its take on the proposal until it has received the supplementary data.

In the letter from the committee chair Norbert Lins addressed to Parliament President Roberta Metsola and seen by EURACTIV, Lins maintains that “both legislators, obviously, will not be in a position to vote on this text before having received and analysed the above additional elements”.

As the Council “does not schedule a common approach by then,” similarly the agriculture committee would “consider irrelevant giving an opinion on the proposal when the additional impact assessment is pending,” Lins wrote.

LEAK: European Parliament to push for 80% pesticides reduction target

The Member of the European Parliament leading the revision of the EU’s pesticide framework is pushing for more ambition both in targets and timelines for EU-wide pesticide cuts, according to a draft report seen by EURACTIV.

Ukraine trade liberalisation

Another hot topic includes renewing the EU’s temporary trade liberalisation scheme with Ukraine.

Approved in record time by EU lawmakers in the aftermath of the ongoing Russian invasion, the current one-year temporary trade liberalisation scheme – which involves suspended tariffs and quotas on agri-food imports from Ukraine – is up for renewal in June 2023.

At the time, the unprecedented proposal of suspending import duty on all agricultural products was justified as crucial to boost Ukraine’s economy and contribute to the country’s gradual integration into the EU internal market.

However, the influx of Ukrainian agricultural goods into the EU market has had a negative impact on neighbouring member states, with Romanian farmers warning that this has pushed them close to bankruptcy.

For Kullgren, solidarity with Ukraine is of the utmost importance, noting that the effects of Russia’s aggression are “not limited to Ukraine, but have significant spill over effects across the globe, particularly in terms of food availability in some vulnerable developing countries”.

The Commission put forward its proposal to renew the suspension of import duties, quotas and trade defence measures on Ukrainian exports to the EU for another year on Thursday (23 February).

However, in a statement, the Commission said it was ‘mindful’ of EU industry concerns.

As such, and considering the significant increase in imports of some agricultural products from Ukraine to the EU in 2022, it put forward an expedited safeguard mechanism in its renewed proposal to protect the EU market if necessary.

The Swedish minister promised to “follow the matter closely and will as Presidency facilitate a swift process in the Council”.

However, the minister kept his cards close to his chest as to whether he supports the idea of triggering the €450 million agricultural reserve fund, a tool of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) designed to support farmers in exceptional moments of crisis.

EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski has repeatedly put forward the idea as a way to give a helping hand to farmers in neighbouring countries, but this requires unanimous support from EU agriculture ministers.

“We had discussions about the agricultural reserve in the Council and will continue to observe as well as discuss the matter,” Kullgren said, adding that the Presidency has now raised the issue with the EU executive and “now the Commission has the initiative”.

Commission to reconsider EU-Ukraine agri-food trade liberalisation

The Commission is mulling over reconsidering the special suspension for all tariffs and quotas on Ukrainian agri-food exports over the coming weeks after complaints from member states that an influx of agricultural goods is putting EU farmers at a disadvantage.

Food labelling, geographical indications

Initially pencilled for the end of 2022, the Commission’s proposal for a harmonised EU-wide front-of-pack nutrition label has been pushed into 2023.

Despite being listed by the Swedish as a key priority in a document released at the beginning of their presidency, the approach of the minister can only be one of wait-and-see.

“If the Commission presents a proposal, will be ready to progress the work,” Kullgren said.

The recent controversy on Ireland’s plan to introduce cancer warnings on wine bottles heated up the labelling debate, with Italy and other member states raising their concerns about the initiative.

However, Kullgren does not think that the public debate on the issue could undermine the discussion by lawmakers, as “it’s important that the member states views are heard.”

“Discussions should be conducted in a way that the different input values are made visible,” he said.

Another file currently stuck is the revamping of geographical indications (GIs), the EU’s food quality scheme, proposed by the European Commission in March 2022. Kullgren anticipated that he expects an EU Council position during the Spring, meaning that the final interinstitutional talks with the MEPs could start soon.

EU unveils revision of food quality scheme amid push to change the minimum

The latest revamping of the EU’s geographical indications (GIs) policy was marked as “an evolution” without substantial changes but still ruffled the feathers of food producers and some member states, who would have liked to preserve the status quo of the framework.