Covid-19: EU agri co-ops seek action on supplies and pricing

Copa and Cogeca has written to the EC about the impact on the dairy, beef, sheep, goat, and fruit and veg sectors

Copa and Cogeca, the united voice of European farmers and their co-ops, has warned the European Commission about the impact the Covid-19 crisis is having on the agri-food industry.

Calling on the Commission to take urgent action, Copa and Cogeca presented data from their members showing how the dairy, beef, sheep, goat, and fruit and veg sectors are being affected by the outbreak.

“In these times that are trying for all of us, the agricultural sector is ensuring food security for every EU citizen,” Pekka Pesonen, Copa and Cogeca secretary general, said in a statement on 7 April.

“At the same time, the sector is currently facing unprecedented circumstances caused by factors beyond agriculture. While we recognise the European Commission’s and member states’ efforts to ensure that the internal market functions smoothly, we reiterate the need for additional targeted market measures for the livestock sector, including exceptional measures, financed outside of the CAP budget.”

While the dairy sector is in peak season, prices of several products have dramatically decreased. Thierry Roquefeuil, chair of the Copa and Cogeca Working Party on Milk and Dairy Products, believes the EU dairy market should not be allowed to deteriorate any further.

He said: “Copa and Cogeca are calling for timely action to trigger the necessary measures and for private storage to be activated for all dairy products. Ensuring private storage for skimmed milk powder, all types of cheeses, butter, including for frozen storage of buffalo milk and/or buffalo curd would have a beneficial impact on ensuring year-round food security. It is also important to assess the impact that the closure of schools has had on the delivery of milk and dairy products to children in schools and to avoid unnecessary restrictions stemming from competition law in this force majeure situation.”

The beef and veal sector has also been impacted by the Covid-19 crisis, due to the loss of the food service and catering channels. Drops in demand, particularly for high-value cuts, led to increases in costs, which, in turn, is affecting prices, say Copa and Cogeca, arguing that EU imports of high-value cuts need to be reviewed. The apex is also asking the Commission to adopt “a more targeted tariff rate quota management”.

Tariff rate quotas allow a pre-determined quantity of a product to be imported at lower import duty rates than the duty rate normally available for that product. Copa and Cogeca say cheap cuts imported from Mercosur countries are worsening the situation for European farmers.

Jean-Pierre Fleury, chair of the Copa and Cogeca Working Party on Beef and Veal, said: “EU imports of high-value cuts need to be reviewed, without any penalties. Moreover, the activation of market measures needs to be examined, including private storage aid for specific high-value cuts and veal, as well as exceptional measures permitted under the Common organisation of the markets regulation. The next Agricultural Council of Ministers needs to be decisive. This is urgent.”

Likewise, in the sheep and goat sector, the Covid-19 outbreak has led to a downward trend for prices at a time when there would usually be an upward trend.

Michèle Boudoin, chair of the Copa and Cogeca Working Party on Sheep said: “The seasonal nature of this production means that this cannot be pushed back to another time of the year. At the same time, imported products are coming onto the EU market at the only time of the year when the market can generate a revenue for sheep and goat producers.”

Copa and Cogeca are asking the Commission to look into the TRQ management, examine the activation of private storage for sheep and goat meat; consider the activation of exceptional measures to cover the costs of keeping animals on the farm; and put in place a private storage scheme for sheep and goat cheese, curd and milk powder.

“Certain common agricultural policy flexibility (on productivity rate and livestock density) would need to be looked at. The EU retail sector should be encouraged to promote EU lamb and goat meat to support the EU sheep and goat sector in these difficult times,” added Mr Boudoin.

On 2 April Copa and Cogeca, sent a letter to the European Commission DG AGRI director-general, in which it expressed their deep concerns over the current and future situation of the fruit and vegetable sector. According to the trade body, the sector is being disrupted by shortage of labour, changes in demand and consumption and problems in the transportation of goods and input, the movement of people.

“Copa and Cogeca call for exceptional measures to be made available to all affected fruit and vegetable growers and for adjustments to the administrative management rules of operational programmes of producer organisations to reduce the constraints that they are currently experiencing” said Luc Vanoirbeek, chair of the Working Party on Fruit and Vegetables.

“With this unbalanced market situation spreading across several EU agricultural sectors, Copa and Cogeca ask the Commission to allocate a dedicated budget that falls outside the CAP budget,” said Mr Pesonen.

Copa and Cogeca warn that Covid-19 will have long-lasting effects on the agri food sector.

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