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The minister addresses the Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Committee of the Lower House of Parliament

"The agreement with MERCOSUR is strategically important for Spain and an opportunity for our agriculture, livestock farming and fisheries", says Luis Planas

Thursday 12 September 2019

Luis Planas spoke to the Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Committee of the Lower House of Parliament to report on the agreement. Luis Planas had a positive view and underlined its strategic importance for the EU against a backdrop of tension in international trade.

The minister went on to say that Spain is the fourth-largest agri-food exporter in the EU and the eighth-largest in the world. Spain is therefore a country with clear "offensive" interests in the international markets, as well as in the countries that make up MERCOSUR. Luis Planas underlined the possibility of ensuring that "what seems like a challenge today becomes an opportunity" when the agreement comes into force.

The agreement with MERCOSUR has still to be approved by the European Parliament and the Member States of the European Union in a process that could take over two years. The agreement sets different transition periods per product of between 5 and 15 years until the full application of reduced or no tariffs, depending on the product in question.

The minister believes it is a modern and balanced agreement from political, economic and trade perspectives. Under this agreement, Spain and the EU will gain access to a market of 263.7 million people, of which almost 55 million are Spanish speaking.

Furthermore, the minister said that the MERCOSUR Agreement is a fine example of second-generation trade agreements that, besides purely trade-related issues, include environment and society related conditions that will, in this case, make it easier for MERCOSUR countries to have additional motivations for meeting the commitments made under the Paris Agreement on climate or, for example, within the framework of International Labour Organisation conventions and commitments on deforestation or illegal fishing.

Similarly, the minister made it clear that the products coming from MERCOSUR countries will need to meet the same standards as EU products when they enter the European Union. In this regard, Luis Planas underlined his proposal to continue efforts towards reciprocity in the use of phytosanitary products in those countries with which the European Union signs trade agreements.

The minister briefly listed the advantages that could be harnessed under the agreement for various agri-food sectors, such as wine, spirits, dairy produce, certain fruits and vegetables, and olive oil.

With respect to olive oil, Luis Planas said that Spain is the leading exporter of this product worldwide, so the agreement provides the sector with an opportunity to significantly increase exports to such countries as Brazil, where the consumption of olive oil is very low. Opportunities also exist in other sectors, such as dairy, where the export of Spanish cheeses of outstanding quality could increase. Similarly, exports of bottled wine and spirits could also increase significantly as a result of the agreement.

In terms of the fisheries sector, the minister said that reduced tariffs on Spanish products arriving in MERCOSUR countries will lead to improved competitiveness for export companies.

Luis Planas also mentioned sectors in which there is greater concern over the repercussions from the agreement. He firstly spoke about the beef sector. In this regard, he insisted that although the agreement might represent a threat (especially for the largest European exporters), there are advantages to be harnessed for Spain - especially those stemming from the sustainability of Spanish production, the quality of Spanish meats. As examples, he cited the possibilities offered by autochthonous breeds in Spain and the consumption growth potential in the catering channel by informing consumers about the origin of Spanish products.

In terms of citrus fruits, Luis Planas recalled that Spain is the global leader in fresh citrus fruit exports and that Spanish interests in the international markets are therefore offensive. In this regard, he said that MERCOSUR production takes place in the Spanish off-season and that will allow Spain to export to MERCOSUR. The agreement should also allow these exports to increase during months in which there is no production in MERCOSUR countries. Even so, the minister said that the sector cannot remain static when faced with a changing international panorama and should take advantage of the time before the agreement comes into force and after it is fully applicable to reinforce its strengths through quality, distinctiveness, and supply and marketing concentration.

Similarly, Luis Planas recalled the Roadmap drawn up by his ministerial department for the citrus fruit sector in April, in which measures were established that should have been implemented by the ministerial department, the regional governments and the sector itself. Regarding the latter, he highlighted the need for INTERCITRUS (the Spanish Interprofessional Citrus Association) to operate and, with that, enable promotion campaigns to be undertaken that have not been seen for years.

Also regarding the phytosanitary control of citrus fruits at the border, he said that citrus fruits are subject to the strictest controls of all fruits because a strengthened oversight system is in place at an EU level following requests from Spain, among other countries. This system will be further strengthened in 2019 with the need to provide export certificates for almost all fruits, including citrus fruits, and increased physical controls.

He then reviewed the international trade context for agri-food products, in which Spain is playing and should continue to play a role of equal significance to its importance in this trade sector. Spain should therefore harness its opportunities and be vigilant in terms of threats. For this reason, he underlined his request to the European Commission at the Council of Agriculture Ministers for it to update the 2016 report analysing the aggregate impact of all trade agreements signed by the EU so that measures can be adopted based on the conclusions from said report that can be adapted to those sectors that need them.

Furthermore, the agreement contains a safeguard clause that could be applied when there is evidence that serious disturbances arise in a certain sector as a result of the agreement.

In the same regard, the minister added that the European Commission will allocate 1 billion euros for compensating possible damages in agri-food sectors stemming from the agreement.

Luis Planas highlighted the advantage posed by the existence of CAP resources for European Union countries, which offers the opportunity - now that its reform is being negotiated by the EU - to strengthen those sectors that could be most at threat when facing the future with a guarantee of profitability, maintaining and even potentially improving their current position.

Non official translation