Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Saturday 25 February 2017

MEPs roll up their sleeves on food supply chain report

Sarah Collins

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

An EU report on the food supply chain, previewed in this column last week, is already buoying farmers and MEPs, who are pressing the Commission to act.

The study asks the EU to outlaw unfair practices by retail giants, including late payments, arbitrary changes to contracts, last-minute order cancellations and the passing on of marketing or unsold stock costs.

“We should waste no more time on developing the proposal,” said Fine Gael MEP Mairead McGuinness. “While legislating in this area is difficult, that is not a reason to shy away from rooting out unfair and unethical practices in the food chain,” she told the Farming Independent.

But agriculture commissioner Phil Hogan was ambiguous in his response to the proposal, saying that it would “normally fly in the face of competition issues” but was “very interesting”.

“When 20 member states feel that they must take action in the food chain, then clearly there’s a problem,” he said, referring to the fact that the UK, Spain and 18 other countries have tried to tackle unfair trading practices in law.

The Irish Farmers’ Association is pressing for an independent retail ombudsman “to assure suppliers that complaints will be investigated and abuses prosecuted”.

Mr Hogan appears to be more enthusiastic about pressing the European Investment Bank to boost financing schemes for farmers, one of the report’s other recommendations.“We need to see action sooner rather than later,” Mr Hogan said.

The EIB said it welcomes the Commission’s report and said it had a “firm commitment to help unlock new agriculture investment”, including amending EU rules to ensure money can be used up quickly.

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“Recent discussion with Commissioner Hogan has outlined how the EIB’s experience of supporting agriculture related investment across Europe, crucial for rural areas, can strengthen future investment where it is most needed,” said Pim van Ballekom, EIB vice-president.

EU-Canada deal in the balance

In more bad news for trade, the European Parliament will vote on whether to refer the EU-Canada trade agreement to the European Court of Justice this week.

Eighty-nine mostly Green and Socialist MEPs — including Independent Marian Harkin and Sinn Féin’s Matt Carthy — say that the private investor courts provided for  in the deal may not be compatible with EU law.

The courts were also opposed by the regional government of Wallonia in Belgium, which threatened to veto the deal until a last-minute compromise was found last month.

The Parliament’s legal service found no contradiction between the investment chapter of the Canada agreement and EU law.

MEPs are due to vote in December on whether the entire Canada deal can apply provisionally, pending ratification by Belgium and other EU counties.

Indo Farming