EU red tape threatens food promotion initiative

By Anthony Fletcher

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Food industry, Eu, European union, European commission

A European Commission programme designed to promote EU food
products outside the bloc has been welcomed by the food industry,
though criticism over European bureaucracy remains a recurrent

The food industry has identified growing global competition and a slowdown in productivity growth as concerns that need to be addressed.

The announcement this week then, that the European Council will support for the promotion of agricultural products in third countries, should benefit European food makers anxious to nurture new markets and open up new opportunities.

But significant frustration remains. Horacio Gonzalez, director of international relations at FIAB, the Spanish Food and Drink Federation, told​ that crippling bureaucracy means that a good idea is in danger of losing momentum.

"We are not so happy with the Commission,"​ he said. "The problem is red tape. We need to spend 20 per cent of our time with the civil servants and 80 per cent of our time with out companies to make this work. But it's the other way round.

"This makes no sense at all. There needs to be more flexibility. We are working with our French, Italian and Portuguese counterparts (Anea, Federalimentari and FIPA respectively) which means dealing with four different ministries and then the Commission - it's a heavy burden."

Gonzalez is frustrated because he clearly believes that this programme - which is targeted specifically at the North American market - is the way forward for the European food industry. The joint Spanish-French-Italian-Portuguese programme is the only European-level programme of its kind involving such international cooperation, and has achieved a positive consensus on a number of issues.

"We think this is a very good approach,"​ he said. "Export funds will eventually dry up, so this kind of cooperation could be a way to replace this. It's a very good idea, but we are losing momentum."

Altogether, 15 programmes have been accepted by the Commission, targeted at the USA, Canada, Japan, Russia, Ukraine, China, and Switzerland. The products covered include wine, dairy products, meat and juices.

The estimated expenditure for the EU is €13 million - 50 per cent of the budget of the programmes. The scheme is also notable for the fact that New Member States participated for the first time.

But it remains to be seen if the programme can kick-start EU exports to third countries, or - as Gonzalez fears - gets stuck in the bureaucratic mud.

Europe's food and drink sector has been in danger of losing its competitiveness for some time. The Confederation of Food and Drink Industries in the EU (CIAA) has voiced the opinion in recent months that the industry needs more help from the European Commission if it is to face the increasing competition from Asia, South America and the US.

Under the new programme, the EU can fund, in whole or in part, measures in third countries that provide information on, or promote, agricultural products and food products. These measures can be public relations, promotional or publicity measures, in particular highlighting the advantages of EU products, especially in terms of quality, hygiene, food safety, nutrition, labelling, animal welfare or environment-friendliness.

"Improving the competitiveness of EU quality products on markets outside the EU is a major challenge,"​ said Commissioner Fischer Boel, responsible for agriculture and rural development.

"By investing in promotion and information campaigns for our agricultural products outside the EU, the European Union is showing its determination to take up this challenge."

The EU food and drink industry sector is the largest manufacturing sector in the 25-member bloc, with a turnover value of around €800bn in 2003 and employs four million people. The sector purchases and processes 70 per cent of the EU's agricultural production. Exports of food and drink products add up to €45bn a year.

Related topics: Market Trends

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