Fruit Logistica is one of the most important events in the EU fruit and vegetable sector, itself the most important sector in the EU agri-food business: almost one third of the total EU agricultural production comes from the fruit & vegetable sector.
But we can still do much more, and this is one of the reasons why I have visited a number of countries around the world over the past few years with the aim of promoting European products. We have concluded to improve market opportunities, with Canada, with Japan and many others, eliminating tariffs, reducing administrative burden, simplifying sanitary and phytosanitary requirements, and giving strong protection to European agri-food products in markets across the world.
Another challenge is to use EU policy to support farmers, and in the fruit and vegetable sector I’m happy to say that a number of recent improvements to the way EU agricultural markets are organised and supported will be of considerable benefit. For example, new rules recently came into force that will make extra support available for sectors in crisis, to help diversify market and to help farmers cope more effectively with risk.
In the longer term, the aim is to draw on the successful support given to the sector in the light of the ongoing Russian embargo and to make these exceptional measures part of the mainstream.
A third challenge is how to improve the bargaining position of farmers in the food supply chains. Later this year I will come forward with proposals for doing just that.
Last but not least, the biggest challenge for us all this year will be to define what we want for the future of European food and farming in the years to come. Last year I included greater shared responsibility between the Commission and EU member states, greater environmental ambition, and a more flexible and fairer targeting of support for farmers. More concrete legislative proposals will come later this year, once the discussion on the next EU budget has taken place in May. Without the necessary budget, the EU will not be able meet any of its ambitions, in agriculture or any other field. With ever-increasing demand for EU action in so many different areas, and so many pressures on the budget, it is vital that money is spent effectively, fairly and where it is needed most. Support for Europe’s farmers has always been at the heart of the EU project, and it will remain so in the future.