20th Mar 2018

Food price spike to hit EU farming review

EU farm ministers are meeting in Brussels today (19 May) for an emergency debate on the sharp rise in food and agriculture product prices on global markets, just a day before the European Commission unveils proposals for a review of the bloc's agrosector.

The Slovenian EU presidency put the food prices issue on the ministers' agenda "with a view to finding a solution to mitigate the adverse effects of such market price trends," Ljubljana wrote in an introductory statement for the meeting.

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  • Brussels is set to announce measures to encourage farmers to produce more (Photo: EUobserver)

Despite a minor slowdown of the food price hikes, they still remain at historically high levels with wheat up 84 percent over one year, maize 21 percent, and butter 21 percent, according to media reports.

It is expected that the ministers will express a demand that the farm reform package - which EU agriculture commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel will present to MEPs in Strasbourg on Tuesday (20 May) - includes measures aimed at curbing the trend.

According to a draft proposal of the Common Agriculture Policy's (CAP) health check reported by AFP agency, the EU executive is to suggest a phasing out of milk quotas and scrapping the rules on keeping land fallow in a bid to encourage more production.

Experts argue that a boost in demand from fast-growing economies such as China and India is one of the crucial factors causing the current food price increases.

The EU's farm policy meanwhile limits production in order to prevent paying for large amounts of agricultural products which would not be sold.

But the current debate has strengthened the camp of CAP supporters, with both France and Germany seizing the moment to speak out against cuts in farm subsidies which were originally envisaged for both the partial health check and a more complex reform of the bloc's budget.

Ms Fischer Boel has dismissed French ideas to protect European food production.

"I am not interested in a protectionistic approach to the agricultural production in Europe - a Fort Europe, if that is the idea. It might be beneficial in the short run, but extremely dangerous in the long term. And it would contrast completely to the negotiations, we have at the World Trade Organisation, WTO. It's about more open markets, more competition," she said in an interview with Danish daily Politiken on Monday (19 May).

The farm policy issue is set to dominate the agenda of the forthcoming French presidency - starting on 1 July - with Britain seen as the key critic of any plans to water down the initiatives aimed at modernizing Europe's future spending in this area.

French farmers remain the biggest beneficiaries of the EU's direct payments, which UK finance minister Alistair Darling recently argued should be ended, along with "all elements of the CAP that are designed to keep EU agriculture prices above world market levels," UK papers reported.

For its part, Germany – home to many large farm estates in the eastern part of the country - has been opposing Brussels' suggestion to cap subsidies for the largest farmers.

Several post-communist central European states have also opposed the move in the political debate preceding this week's publication of the reform package.

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