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This week the high level group on the Competitiveness of the Agro-Food Industry Group (HLG) brought together member states as well as senior policy makers from the agro-food industry, civil society and professional associations. Their task was to identify and address issues that determine the competitiveness of the European agro-food industry and to formulate a set of recommendations to achieve predictable and stable framework conditions for the years to come.
The food and drink industry is one of Europe's most important and dynamic industrial sectors. It is made up of about 280,000 companies, over 90 percent of which are SMEs, and provides jobs for 4 million people. The high level group has examined a number of major policy areas that have an impact on the operation of the European food industry with the objective of setting out a "forward looking and holistic" approach.
The high level group has formulated a set of recommendations addressed to policy makers at the European level. The European bureaucrats want a centralistic approach for the European agro-food industry, which brings more power to the EU policymakers. The high level group strongly endorses a centralistic approach with respect to European Union and national policies in order to ensure that its specificities of the European food chain from the supply and demand side are duly taken into account, thus enhancing its jurisdiction on the food industry from farm to fork.
Likewise the group endorses the development of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) that will enable European bureaucracy to better control the market signals. The European Commission wants to control market management instruments saying it could best take into account producers, consumers, processors and taxpayers. The European Commission is aware it should address prices volatility and availability of raw materials. Considering that more frequent price fluctuations are likely to occur in the future, the group should consider whether new policy instruments at EU level are the most efficient for the management of production and market risks.
As regards the instruments that regulate production, the EU institutions decided that they should continue to adapt them so as to control the farming sector to respond to trends of supply and demand, whilst maintaining diversity of production. A transitional period must be foreseen when necessary, in order to avoid disturbances of the farming sector as well as reducing the consequences of price volatility of raw material. In cases of risks of supply shortages of the basic agricultural products of the appropriate quality, the group decided the European Commission should be empowered to suspend temporally its customs tariff conditions so as to facilitate quick response to the crisis.
The group recommended an EU-policy framework that facilitates supply of competitively priced raw materials as a way to limit price volatility with the view to achieve sustainable growth of the sector. The European Commission and member states in cooperation with European Food Safety Authority would be wise to try and improve the efficiency and transparency of the authorization procedures for Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) in order to enhance the confidence of stakeholders, while taking into consideration society's growing awareness. In addition they should continue analyzing the overall impact of GMOs and the long-term future of the EU GMO policies.
Furthermore the group recommended that the European Commission in cooperation with member states would identify and remove barriers to investment in eco-efficient technology. Where this is not feasible, the group wants the European Commission to have the right to establish financial support schemes at EU level in order to dictate a policy which will try to overcome these barriers.
The author is the head of the International Department at GSCB Law Firm.
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