Article by Anthea McIntyre MEP.

I am currently working on a new report on the future of horticulture in the EU – a sector which has been neglected at EU level.  The sector is a vital part of European agriculture but the committee has never reported on it before, even though it has specific challenges and great opportunities for growth.

To put the sector into context, fruit and vegetables represent 3% of the EU’s cultivated area but 17% of its agricultural production. The total production value is estimated to be more than 50 billion euros.

My report, A future for Europe’s horticulture sector – strategies for growth, will cover edible, ornamental and other non-food crops and will include a look at the barriers to the industry’s economic growth and competitiveness and the changes in policies required to help it overcome them.

I would welcome comments and views from any growers or grower organisations – ideally by the end of June – so that I have a ‘bank’ of  practical  examples of the issues facing this sector  that I can cite as necessary.  I shall have a stand at ‘Fruit Focus’ on 24th July in East Malling and will be delighted to see any SWVA members there too and, although very late, will try to incorporate any crucial points into the report.

The timetable sees the publication of my draft report in August followed by a period for consideration of amendments culminating in the formal presentation and adoption of the report by the Agriculture Committee in October and by the whole EU Parliament in November.

I hope this will be a real opportunity for the industry, particularly in the UK, to influence EU policies that affect it.

EU Agriculture Committee to visit UK vineyard

I am delighted to have arranged for members of the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee to visit the West Midlands in July.  Their visit will take in Three Choirs Vineyard at Newent.

I wanted to include Three Choirs in the programme for this visit as it gives us the opportunity to showcase another aspect of our diverse and thriving Region and will, in part, help inform members of the committee about some of the issues that will be addressed in the report mentioned above.

I am determined that my colleagues understand the importance of horticulture, viniculture, livestock and other agricultural sectors to the West Midlands and UK economies.

Planting Restrictions

It has long been the position of UK grape growers and wine makers that the industry should be constrained only by regulations to protect consumers and the environment – measures such as Planting Restrictions and subsidies to growers merely distort the market and provide an excuse for potential export markets to apply tariffs to ‘compensate’ for the subsidies. 

At the moment, the UK has a temporary exemption from the Planting Restriction rules but their existence and their impact on the free operation of the market cannot be ignored.

The British Government and Conservative members of the European Parliament, working alongside our colleagues from Denmark and Sweden, are actively pursuing an end to the Planting Restrictions as a part of the overall reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).  It is worth remembering that Planting Restrictions were originally introduced in 1976 as a short-term measure and were due to expire in 1978 but have subsequently been extended ten times!

Like much European regulation, the current system seeks to distort the market because it is not based on the needs of consumers (allowing them access to wines they choose to buy at a price that is determined by the market) but rather seeks to protect some “traditional” producers who offer wine that nobody wants to buy.

The current position (as at early May 2013) is that the European Commission had recommended that Planting Restrictions should end on 31st December 2015 and the European Parliament (driven by the demands of Europe’s large wine-producing nations) counter-proposed that they should remain until 2030.  Faced with this counter-proposal, the Commission voted in favour of a new ‘authorisations’ system to replace Planting restrictions.  Such authorisations would be time limited, have a potential increase of 1% each year – which could be a slight opening of the market – and would come into effect from 1st January 2019. The scheme would run until 2024, at which point it would either fall or be extended, based on a Commission report and proposal.

If agreed, this would be a tiny step forward but fails to address the real issue – why are regulations in place that distort the market? 

The answer to that question is (inevitably) complex but perhaps can be summarised as existing to protect the long-established wine producing nations against competition from the New World producers and smaller European producers such as the UK. 

The relative decline in wine-consumption in southern Europe is counter-balanced by growing consumption in northern Europe and, most excitingly for UK producers, in export markets such as China, Brazil and North America.

One thing that these protracted and, as yet, unresolved negotiations prove beyond doubt – once you create a system that includes subsidies and restrictions on free-trade then the process of dismantling them will be lengthy and painful.