At European Parliament level, Paolo De Castro (S&D), rapporteur on the recovery plan dossier, proposed that at least 2/3 of the total recovery package should be devoted to investment in sustainable development and digitization. 

At the meeting of the Council of agriculture ministers, Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski explained that despite the recession caused by the pandemic, the value of EU agri-food exports reached €75.8 billion in January-May 2020, an increase of 2% compared to the same period of the previous year.

09/18 Authorizations for State aid schemes

The Commission gave the green light to allow Italy to pay a supplementary aid to wine producers in the Piedmont region, for crisis distillation. Only wines with a protected geographical indication (PGI) or a protected designation of origin (PDO) can benefit from the financial assistance, which is designed to reduce wine stocks & reestablish a balance between supply & demand in the Italian market. 

Rome had already included crisis distillation in its national support programme for the wine sector (2020), but, until now, the scheme was of little benefit to Piedmont, one of the worst affected regions by the pandemic. Under current the provisions, PGI & PDO wines are not eligible. Around 94% of wines in the region have one or the other designation. Delivery of wine for distillation will be voluntary & the alcohol produced will be used for industrial, including disinfection, or pharmaceutical or energy purposes. The national budget allocated to the measure is €4 million with an aid of between €6.5 & €12.5 per hectolitre of wine distilled. It is estimated that 84 000 hectoliters will go through the process.

09/21 ComAgri directs the recovery package towards double-performance of agriculture

During the ComAgri meeting hold on September 21st, MEPs have long discussed the technicalities and the consequences of the recovery package proposed by the Commission. 

De Castro (S&D), being the rapporteur on the file on the recovery package (New Generation Fund EU – NGFEU), expressed his satisfaction about the total amount that the recovery plan will dedicate, eventually, to the agricultural sector. With the proposal of incorporating the original Commission proposal to the transitional regulation, the sector could be able to benefit as of 2021&2022 from more than €10 billion (€7.5 billion from the NGEU plus €2.6 billion from the anticipation funds for the years 2021-22). 

The Rapporteur tabled the idea that at least 2/3 of the total recovery package should be dedicated to investments in sustainable development and digitalization. It is of utmost importance to favor organic farming, reduce the use of chemicals, improve the management of waters. Yet, these measures are not enough alone, De Castro concluded, and this is why investments should be driven towards smart farming, precision agriculture, and broadband Internet in rural areas.

(More details: cf. email of September 24th “ComAgri meeting – September 21s”t)

09/21 Food exports rising despite the recession

EU Agriculture Ministers meeting within the Council heard an upbeat assessment from the Commission (EC) on progress in trade in the wake of COVID-19, but strong objections to some areas of policy, notably Mercosur, were voiced by some. In a paper on trade-related agricultural issues [10731/1/20 REV 1], DG AGRI officials covered the impact of COVID-19 on international trade & provided an update on agreements with the US, China, South America, Australia & New Zealand. The coronavirus had affected trade in agricultural products on an international scale, but markets remained “largely open … thanks to initiatives taken by the EU, US, Canada, Japan & other trading partners in the framework of G20 & WTO”. There had been some initial restrictions, mainly on cereals & rice, with the EC listing Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Vietnam, Cambodia & Egypt as examples. However, “international trade of agricultural products was affected less than other sectors.” 

Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski told Ministers that the pandemic had fuelled calls for a more resilient agri-food sector with shorter supply chains. But he also pointed out that “international cooperation & trade proved to be essential elements for ensuring food security,” insisting that “there is no contradiction between benefitting from market opportunities by developing short supply chains & benefitting from trade opportunities.” He described negotiations between the EU & UK, “with respect to other trade negotiations,” as “the most important question for EU agri-food trade in the near future.” He noted that full implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement, inc. its provisions on citizens’ rights & Ireland, was “an essential condition for mutual trust in the talks regarding the future EU-UK partnership.” “Unless the UK government introduces some fundamental changes to its current positions, reaching an agreement will be very difficult”. “We are ready to offer the most ambitious trade deal we have ever put on the table with a third country: ‘zero tariffs & zero quotas on all goods’ & create an unprecedented partnership in terms of the scope of issues that are covered.” “To move away from this commonly agreed zero tariffs/zero quotas would take us years of negotiations”

Wojciechowski explained that despite the recession caused by the pandemic, the value of EU agri-food exports had risen to €75.8 billion in Jan-May 2020, 2% up on the same period in the previous year, while imports were up by 1% at €52.7bn. “Continued record high exports of pigmeat to China (227%) as well as increased exports of wheat & coarse grains, in particular to neighbouring countries [Saudi Arabia, Morocco & Algeria] contributed most to this growth.” However, the EU food market was affected by decreasing trade with the US & UK adding, “to the already challenging business environment.” 

09/22 The Italian recovery is taking shape 

“Competitiveness of the food system; producing energy from renewable sources while reducing emissions and improving the sustainability of production processes; improving the capacity to adapt to climate change and preventing hydrogeological instability: these are the three macro-objectives that form part of the strategic vision that will guide the regeneration of the agricultural and food system in our country. The opportunity offered by the recovery cannot be wasted”. This was the view expressed by the Minister of Agriculture, Teresa Bellanova, at the hearing on the identification of priorities in the use of the Recovery Fund in the House Agriculture Committee. “We have developed a portfolio of projects worth around 17 billion euros. Other proposals have been included in the project fiches for projects led by other ministries, such as the one on broadband in rural areas,… , the one on the revival of rural villages, … , the one on the digitization of public administration and services to citizens, … , the one on earth observation projects, … A transversality and a connection that is not accidental”, Bellanova stressed.

09/24 Authorizations for State aid schemes

The Commission confirmed approved a €10 million state aid for the potato sector in the Wallonia region of Belgium. The support, in the form of direct grants, will be available to all producers & storers of potatoes in the area, & is designed to address liquidity needs & help them to carry on their activities during & after the COVID-19 outbreak. 

09/26 US funds $1m research project studying COVID-19 in US beef supply chain

 The US Department of Agriculture is funding a $1m research project to identify how the virus that causes COVID-19 might be transmitted in the nation’s beef supply chain, from cattle on the farm to the packages of meat inside a person’s refrigerator.

One goal of the two-year project, set to begin in October, is to help reduce the risk of exposure for consumers and people who work in the meat industry, according to a USDA document describing the research effort led by Texas A&M University.

The grant is part of a broader effort by the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), which has recently awarded about $13 million across 17 projects studying the impact of COVID-19 on livestock, food safety, food processing and the American agricultural sector.

09/28 A 7,000-euro subsidy for farms in Lombardy 

Lombardy’s regional councillor for agriculture, Fabio Rolfi, has announced a rapid measure, without bureaucratic obstacles, to help the three sectors of the agricultural sector that have suffered most from the economic crisis resulting from the confinement: holiday farms (which have been closed for 2 and a half months), horticultural farms (closed in the weeks when they make 70% of their turnover) and farms raising calves that are slaughtered within 8 months, a typical Lombard activity.

Fabio Rolfi, presented the support measure which will be paid within two months of the application, and which will only be subject to a very quick verification of the eligibility of beneficiaries. The control will only focus on the possible existence of particular reasons for refusal. The Region will make available a budget of almost 20 million (19.9 million).

The amount paid to each beneficiary will be a maximum of 7,000 euros. All eligible applications will be funded. 

Grants should be awarded by the end of November, and in December at the latest.

Across the country, the agricultural sector continues to submit guarantee applications to the Small and Medium Enterprise Fund at a rate of €10 million per day. Two months after the opening of the Fund managed by Mediocredito Centrale to the primary sector, the amount of financing reached nearly €400 million out of a total of 3,579 operations. “The average amount of the individual transaction is amounting to €110,000”. Among the territories benefiting most from the fund, Tuscany with €51.7 million, followed by Veneto with €50.3 million and Lombardy with €47.3 million.

09/30 French poultry exports in sharp decline 

The coronavirus crisis has further slowed the poultry trade in the first half of 2020. According to Itavi data, French exports of meat and poultry preparations fell by 15.6% in volume and 19.9% in value compared with the same period in 2019. The decline in shipments was very marked to EU 27 + UK countries. There was a 21.6% drop in volume, particularly to the United Kingdom (-42.1%), Spain (-19.8%) and the Netherlands (-28.7%). The collapse in tariffs (-24.8%) to EU countries was mainly due to the fall in the average price to Spain (-12%), Germany (-10.5%) and the Netherlands (-15.5%). Exports to non-EU countries also fell by 7.2% in volume terms, with a sharp drop in chicken exports to Saudi Arabia (-10.1%), Benin (-33.1) and Hong Kong (-22.9%).