New agriculture commissioner to review supermarket ‘unfair practices’

By David Haworth, in Brussels

- Last updated on GMT

Hogan said he was willing to use legal instruments to get a fair price for farmers
Hogan said he was willing to use legal instruments to get a fair price for farmers

Related tags: European union

Nominated European Union (EU) agriculture commissioner Phil Hogan has promised an urgent review of "unfair practices" by supermarkets, which can hold meat producers to price ransom when negotiating with farmers.

He acknowledged to members of the European Parliament (MEPs) that the present voluntary discussions between producers and retailers are unsatisfactory in many cases, agreeing with one MEP "that producers are still in fear of supermarkets".

Hogan replied he would review the present voluntary arrangements but if they were found wanting, "I am certainly willing to use legal instruments to get a fair price for farmers."

This promise was given to the European Parliament’s agriculture committee during a three-hour grilling to win the legislators’ approval of his new commissioner role.

In the event, the former Irish Environment Minister with a background in Kilkenny farming glided through his ordeal and was clearly supported by MEPs. A formal vote on his confirmation will happen next week.

His first challenge was the implementation of the newly reformed Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and review whether it is working satisfactorily for direct payments and the further need for rules simplification. "As for simplification, the one thing it is not is simple,"​ he told an amused audience.

He promised a CAP screening as a matter of priority – one which would have a clear timetable for further reforms that would not only benefit producers but also reduce errors in the system. "Where faults are found,"​ he said, "I propose to amend our rules, notably on direct payments, to check if it is designed so it can be properly applied in practice."

First in his in-tray, however, is the Russian ban on EU produce exports, begun in August, which follows the long-standing ban on pig meat imports that has been in place since January. The EU’s 2015 budget will provide cash for meat and livestock producers threatened with bankruptcy by Moscow’s measures. This will come into effect from the middle of this month (October).

The previous €125 million lump sum, which ended early September, had already been claimed but a further €165m of extra aid to counter the ban’s effects has already been agreed by the Commission, Hogan stressed. "I shall make sure the EU’s reserve is protected,"​ he said, adding that he was aware producers could not wait and the funds should be used for export promotion.

He pledged to find ways convergence can be improved because of concern about the unequal distribution of payments within regions and to farmers on the EU’s peripheries.

Related topics: Industry & Markets, Retail, Russia, EU

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