Laurentiu Rebega, one of Romania’s four members on the European Parliament’s Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development (ComAgri), talks to BR about the committee’s agenda, the future of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and what the future agriculture and rural development commissioner’s priorities should be.
What are the main topics currently on the ComAgri agenda and what are the implications for Romania?
The themes currently on the agenda are organic farming, the legislation concerning new foods, restarting the discussions on forestry strategies and the unfair practices in the agro-alimentary sector. All of these issues are important for Romania because organic farming is generally undertaken by young farmers and this sector has been growing over the past few years.
As far as new foods are concerned, this topic is controversial because the local market can see the emergence of foods coming from non-EU countries, which are not controlled. Great attention needs to be paid to this sector. The authorization and use of new foods and ingredients has been harmonized in the EU since 1997, according to REG. 258/97. But for a food to be introduced on the market, a preliminary request needs to be approved by a food products evaluation body of a member state. A new food is additionally evaluated by the European Food Safety Authority (ESFA).
The forestry sector is important for Romania and the presence of Romanian MEPs is welcome at the discussions on strategy in this area. And, last but not least, it is important to know the European legislation on unfair practices along the food chain, considering that farmers’ interest are the priority.
At what stage are the negotiations for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and what will this agreement entail for the agriculture sector in the EU?
The bilateral relations between the European Union and the United States are the object of long negotiations. And both political actors in the committees and the European Parliament are trying to reach an agreement to improve commercial trade.
Controversial opinions keep on emerging as that agriculture is a key sector but also because legislation on product quality differs. From an economic point of view, this agreement opens the door to a huge horizon, especially in the current context, when some markets are shutting us out, and I’m referring here to the embargo imposed by the Russian Federation.
What are the main benefits that the TTIP will bring to EU farmers and producers and how do you respond to fears that it will lead to a relaxation of EU standards in agriculture and the food industry?
As I was saying, legislation differs and both parties are looking for a balance. It isn’t and it will not be easy. Expert groups are always meeting so it is not impossible that we will reach an agreement. Obviously, the European Union will not give up years of work of trying to fine-tune a so-strong legislation on consumer protection just to facilitate commercial trade.
It is unacceptable that it should give in, but it is impossible not to on certain aspects, while looking to find other ways to save the world-level position it holds at this point. Genetically modified organisms are a subject that raises indignation. Opinions both for and against are justified. I think that the effects can be foreseen through research and, in this way, the European community will maintain a strong position on supporting current legislation.
What are the TTIP’s implications for local agriculture and which local agriculture sectors can most benefit from this agreement?
The advantages for Romania’s exports and competitiveness in agriculture are self-evident. What sectors will most benefit from this will depend on the quality of the products.
What measures are currently being negotiated or could be taken to help European farmers and producers affected by the Russia-imposed embargo?
This theme was tackled on the very first day of the plenary session in Strasbourg. At this point, fruit and vegetable producers, who are no longer supported with EU funds, are the most affected. Together with other members of the committee we have expressly requested that these funds be reinstated and even that the crisis fund be authorized.
The current situation has diminished exports by a third and the funds proved insufficient. What we’ve requested is that a political crisis does not have consequences on farmers like the current one does. The European Commission (EC) responded to our request with the promise of a new plan to support farmers. The new rules will probably resemble the previous ones as far as the aid level is concerned, but they will be drafted in such a way as to prevent false claims. And it will include a detailed analysis for every member state on every group of products (apples, pears, citrus fruits etc), taking into account the exports to Russia in the same period of last year (September to December).
What do you think should be the priorities of the new European commissioner for agriculture and rural development?
I think these priorities should include eliminating the differences in subsidy levels, given that the cost differences between founding and new EU member states are not that big. Also, European administrative streamlining needs to come to the forefront and regardless of the conclusions coming out of the TTIP negotiations and the effects of the Russian embargo, support for farmers needs to adapt to challenges on the internal and world markets.