Saturday 25 February 2017

Former EU chief to draft code on curbing big stores

AIDEEN SHEAHAN

A FORMER Irish EU Commissioner has been asked to help draw up a voluntary code of practice to curb supermarket power over suppliers -- with their agreement.

Just hours before she was moved to the Department of Education, the Tanaiste and Enterprise Minister Mary Coughlan announced she had appointed David Byrne as a "facilitator" in the development of a code to give suppliers a fairer deal in their relationships with the multiples.

The aim of the code will be to stamp out alleged abuses by retailers of their strong bargaining power over grocery suppliers, who claim they have been forced to accept uneconomic prices, pay large sums and meet unreasonable requirements to stay on supermarket shelves.

Mr Byrne, who is also a former attorney general and the current chancellor of Dublin City University, will be seen as a strong appointment as he has years of experience in driving legislative change in Europe while resisting intense lobbying efforts by the food industry to dilute his efforts.

As Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection between 1999 and 2004 he was instrumental in tightening food safety laws, driving legislation forcing food companies to back-up their marketing claims, and introducing tough anti-smoking legislation.

Recommendations

In his new role he will be asked to report back to the new Enterprise Minister Batt O'Keeffe by early summer with recommendations on a draft voluntary code.

Ms Coughlan said that he would be asked to consider submissions on a supermarket code made in a public consultation on the matter last year, and how voluntary codes had worked in other countries.

Mr Byrne would meet with suppliers and supermarkets to discuss what provisions should be included in a voluntary code.

He would also examine how it would be enforced and funded, as well as making sure it did not result in increased prices for consumers.

His role would also involve getting agreement from all stakeholders for the code.

It could then also form the basis of a statutory code which will be provided for under legislation merging the National Consumer Agency and the Competition Authority later this year, Ms Coughlan said.

The Oireachtas Enterprise Committee will also publish a report into relationships between suppliers and supermarkets today after months of hearings on the matter.

Irish Independent

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