ICMSA seeks less conversation, more action on retail issues

Proposals by an EU task-force on how to improve the positions of farmers in the food supply chain have met with mixed responses from agri-food stakeholders.

Copa & Cogeca, the umbrella body for the main national farmer unions in EU member states, welcomed the proposal to introduce framework laws to curb unfair retail practices.

However, the ICMSA says an EU move to impose a mandatory minimum price for milk, beef and other commodities would be a more effective way to support suppliers.

European Agriculture Commissioner, Phil Hogan, set up the Agricultural Markets Task Force (AMTF) in response to claims that Europe’s farmers are struggling due to prolonged periods of low prices.

Chaired by former Dutch Minister for Agriculture and university professor Cees Veerman, the AMTF calls for new rules at EU level to cover certain unfair trading practices, and the implementation of effective enforcement regimes in member states using an adjudicator.

The AMTF recommends increasing market transparency, enhancing co-operation among farmers, facilitating farmers’ access to finance and improving the take-up of risk management tools.

Mr Hogan said: “The report is a very welcome addition to the debate on how to achieve this. We will now prioritise our consideration of the report and its recommendations and deliver the appropriate policy response.”

However, ICMSA president John Comer said the EU needs to go beyond “simply bemoaning the unfairness and deficiencies in the food supply chain”. He said that suppliers need hard, concrete steps to reverse the dominance of corporate retailers.

Mr Comer said urgent action is needed to prevent the inexorable, year-on-year, relentless, margin-grabbing that had seen farmer share of final retail beef price fall by 8% in just the last year and by 10% since 2013.

He said the AMTF’s report seems to absolve the EU from taking any action to protect farmers, placing the onus on the marketplace and futures markets to address any imbalance between farmers and retailers.

“This will not work,” said Mr Comer.

“The commission is always going to struggle to contain the retail corporations if they approach the question along the line of unfair trading practices. It’s effectively impossible to prove that a normal question of one party agreeing to sell at a given price and another party agreeing to buy at a given price represents an unfair trading practices.

“A much more effective way has to be a mandatory minimum price per litre that identifies the cost of production in each member state and then sets out a price on the basis of ‘costs/ plus’ where the ‘plus’ elements recognises and protects an income commensurate with the work, investment and skill levels required.”

Copa & Cogeca secretary-general Pekka Pesonen said: “For us, an EU framework law is vital to curb unfair trading practices so that operators are sanctioned when they break EU law. An independent third party ombudsman must impose sanctions whenever there is non-compliance.

“We also support the initiative to increase market transparency by creating market observatories in the milk, beef and pork sectors but they need to be extended to include other sectors like sheep meat, sugar, wine, cereals and potatoes.”


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