BRUSSELS BULLETIN

Brexit extension on the table, MEPs blacklist UTPs, and Tequila gains PGI status: A round-up of EU news & views

By Flora Southey contact

- Last updated on GMT

Brexit, brown rice, beekeeping, Tequila: EU news and views

Related tags: European commission, Rice, Brexit

The European Commission has granted a conditional extension to the Article 50 deadline, import duty on brown rice has risen to €60 per tonne, and Mexican spirit drink Tequila has been accepted into the EU register of protected geographical indications. FoodNavigator brings you the latest news from Brussels.

European Council agrees to conditional Brexit extension

Yesterday (21 March), the European Council agreed to grant the UK a conditional Article 50 extension.

Per the Council’s conclusions (available here​), an extension will be granted until May 22 on the condition that the Withdrawal Agreement is approved by the UK Parliament next week.

The European Parliament elections begin on May 23.

“Given that the United Kingdom does not intend to hold elections to the European Parliament, no extensions beyond that date is possible,” ​writes the Council in the conclusions statement.

If UK Prime Minister Theresa May fails to secure support for the Agreement next week, the Council will grant an extension until 12 April, 2019.

The announcement comes in response to May’s request for an extension, submitted 20 March, to get her withdrawal deal passed by the UK Parliament.

Later that day, Prime Minister Theresa May told MPs that she did not want to implicate the UK in the upcoming European Parliament elections, which are scheduled for May.

“The idea…that three years after voting to leave the EU, the people of this country should be asked to elect a new set of MEPs is, I believe, unacceptable,” ​she told MPs.

FoodDrinkEurope, alongside Copa-Cogeca and CELCA, said they supported an extension, on the condition it limits the current ‘uncertainty’ surrounding Brexit.

More on the EU agri-food chain’s statement can be found here​.

Increased demand for brown rice drives up import duty

At the most recent review of rice import duties in the EU, on 28 February, regulators found that import levels of ‘husked’ or brown rice had risen by two brackets.

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Import levels of brown rice have significantly increased ©GettyImages/valio84sl

Import levels had risen from less than 191,113 tonnes to more than 264 tonnes, within a matter of months.

This sees import duty rise from €30 per tonne to €65 per tonne.

“Import duties of €65 per tonne are now fixed until the next review, which will be on 1 September 2019. In the meanwhile, the European Commission is monitoring the market closely,” ​wrote the Commission in a statement.

MEPs blacklist unfair trading practices

MEPs have voted 589 votes in favour to 72 against unfair trading practices (UTPs). There were nine abstentions.

The new EU rules aim to protect farmers against a number of UTPs, including late payment for delivered products, the misuse of confidential information, as well as late unilateral cancellations or retroactive order charges.

The vote, which took place on Tuesday (19 March) has received much praise, including from the European commissioner for agriculture and rural development, Phil Hogan.

Today's vote is fundamentally about fairness for farmers in the food supply chain. The Commission tabled this proposal in April 2018 to ensure that farmers are treated fairly by parties throughout the food supply chain, and to provide this minimum protection all across the EU,” he said earlier this week.

The Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) has similarly spoken out in favour of the vote.

“This is a positive result for farmers who have always been subjected to the whims of large retailers. The unfair trading practices to be banned include: late payments for perishable food products, last minute order cancellations, unilateral or retroactive changes to contracts; forcing the supplier to pay for wasted products and refusing written contracts,” ​said IFA president Joe Healy.

“IFA has campaigned for many years, nationally and in Europe, for a re-balancing of power in the food supply chain. This is crucial to deliver a viable price for farmers, and a return on their work and investment.

“Many retailers were behaving like modern-day dictatorships, abusing their power to accumulate vast profits. The new rules…will re-balance the scale, which is all farmers ever wanted,” ​he added.

European farmers and agri-cooperatives, as well as FoodDrinkEurope – which represents the interests of food and drink manufacturers across the bloc – and the Fair Trade Advocacy Office, said the vote is “an important step closer to a fairer food chain for everyone”, ​in a joint statement.

“This action will improve the trading conditions for the 11 million farmers and 293,000 producers in Europe, as well as for many more suppliers outside the EU, when selling their products on the European market,” ​wrote the signatories.

“The Directive brings more certainty and clarity to those buying and selling agri-food products across the chain. By providing a minimum harmonisation level across the EU, policy-makers achieved a significant step in the fight against unfair trading practices in the food supply chain.”

Tequila granted PGI

Mexican spirit drink Tequila has been approved in the EU register of protected geographical indications (PGI).

Its admission marks the third spirit to join the register from a third country, following the inclusion of Pisco from Peru and Ron from Guatemala.

Tequila is made from the blue agave plant, which is sourced from regions in the centre and west of Mexico.

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Tequila is made from the juice of the blue agave ©GettyImages/Dean_Fikar

 “Tequila is the most emblematic alcoholic beverage produced in Mexico and it forms an important part of the Mexican cultural identify,” ​said commissioner for agriculture and rural development Phil Hogan.

“We know very well in Europe how the international success of a regional spirit drink can help to create high-quality jobs in rural areas and generate a strong sense of local and national pride.

“I want to extend my heartfelt congratulations to our Mexican colleagues. The addition of Tequila to the EU GI Spirits is the latest step on the EU-Mexico journey of cooperation.”

EU pledges 60% more funds for beekeeping programmes

Pollinators, farmers and Industry 4.0 were the topics of the ‘Digitisation in beekeeping: Benefits and challenges’ conference held in Sofia, Bulgaria earlier this month.

According to Bulgarian publication Agrozona.bg, which reports on agricultural, environmental and tourism issues, 60% more funds have been pledged by the EU to support the development of beekeeping after 2020. This would see dedicated financing increase from €36m to €62m.

EU commissioner for agriculture and rural development, Phil Hogan, was reported to have said that beekeeping development programmes will be part of Member States’ national agricultural development strategies.

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