You are in:

Coronavirus COVID-19

Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food resolves doubts regarding measures under state of emergency for these sectors

Tuesday 24 March 2020

Royal Decree 463/2020, declaring the state of emergency to tackle the situation caused by COVID-19, establishes that the competent delegate authorities will adopt the measures necessary to guarantee food distribution.

Crop and livestock production and aquaculture, together with fishing activity, the transformation of farming and fisheries products, veterinary centres and clinics, the transportation and distribution of food, as well as its final distribution through retail sales to consumers, form the food supply chain, an activity which must be guaranteed in the situation of the state of emergency.

This means that not only the activity of agri-food companies as a whole must be guaranteed, including crop and livestock holdings, fish farms and fishing activity, but also those companies which, in turn, supply them with the supplies for their operations.

In the case of crop and livestock farmers, aquaculture farmers and fishermen, they should be able to carry on the work necessary to guarantee their activity is maintained.

At any event, to prevent and contain the expansion of the virus, those tasks that are not essential to be performed during the state of emergency should be limited or suspended, such as auxiliary maintenance work.

During this period, a large number of doubts and queries for clarification have been raised in relation to the application of the state of emergency in the agricultural and fisheries sector, which can be grouped together in the following sections.

1. Travel by workers in vehicles

Royal Decree 463/2020 establishes limits on the freedom of movement in vehicles by people except, among other activities, travel to the workplace to perform employment, professional or business activities. People can also travel in private vehicles on public roads to perform these activities providing they respect the recommendations and obligations issued by the health authorities.

Many queries have been received about how travel in vehicles should be performed to and from crop and livestock holdings, fishing ports and agri-food industries.

To this end, it should be clarified that, according to Article 3.3 of Order TMA/254/2020, of 18 March, issuing instructions on road and air transport, vans can be used to transport workers to farms and sailors and workers on fishing vessels to ports, provided that they do not use more than one third of the maximum seat capacity of the vehicle, and that all the safety measures issued by the Ministry of Health are complied with.

Accordingly, two workers may travel in a car (the driver and one passenger who must sit behind the co-pilot's seat), and three in a van with a capacity for nine people. The necessary preventive measures should be adopted to maintain the appropriate safety distances between occupants in the vehicle. At any event, the row behind the driver's seat must always remain empty.

A large number of queries have also been received on how to substantiate that a worker, a professional or a crop or livestock farmer or fisherman is travelling to work.

There is no specific form of compulsory accreditation for this situation; however, some organisations and bodies, in a voluntary manner, are providing forms for their associates that may be useful to justify travel in the event that this may be requested by the competent authority.

At any event, travel is permitted provided that the crop or livestock farmer, fisherman, professional or worker is travelling to carry out their work in the terms described at the start of this document. In addition, the owners of crop or livestock farms and fishing vessels must strictly comply with the protocols issued by the health authorities for prevention and protection against COVID-19 in their work centres, providing the means and organisational measures necessary for them and for their workers.

2. Opening times for the retail sale of supplies for crop and livestock farming and fishing

Crop and livestock farming, fish farming and fisheries activities require the use of supplies for their correct performance, such as the use of fertilisers, plant protection products, seeds and seedlings, veterinary products, animal feed, salt, ice and other supplies. To this end, retail trade activity that supplies these types of supplies may continue, since this activity is essential to ensure primary production, and hence the supply of food to the public.

On occasions, this retail trade is provided by agricultural cooperatives, fishermen's guilds, fish markets and ports, which should be allowed to continue providing this service. On other occasions, these products are sold in establishments that supply other types of products. In this case, their activity will be limited to that necessary for the sale of supplies to crop and livestock farmers, fish farmers and fishermen.

3. Suspension of deadlines in administrative procedures under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and for the fisheries sector

On a general basis, the entry into force of Royal Decree 463/2020 interrupts all the deadlines for administrative procedures under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and for the fisheries sector.

In this context, any non-compliance with the deadlines for causes not attributable to the interested parties may be considered a cause of force majeure.

3.1. In the specific case of procedures under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

As regards the direct aid received by crop and livestock farmers, applications for which must be presented between 1 February and 30 April, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food welcomes the decision taken by the European Commission to extend the deadline for applications until 15 June. The Commission has confirmed to Spain that it will shortly begin processing an Implementing Regulation to apply this extension. At any event, in collaboration with the regional governments, the electronic presentation of applications for aid will be facilitated so that the maximum number of applications can continue to be registered during the state of emergency electronically.

All of the systems for aid and administrative procedures related to the application of the CAP in Spain will be revised to facilitate compliance with the commitments of all beneficiaries that are affected by the state of emergency, since this exceptional state has the consideration of a cause of force majeure, and the European Commission will be asked for such urgent regulatory changes as may be necessary.

3.2. In relation to the deadlines on disciplinary proceedings in the fisheries sector.

In the event of breaches which are not yet subject to disciplinary proceedings, the periods for these to become statute-barred are suspended, although provisional measures may be adopted.

In the case of disciplinary proceedings that have been initiated, these are suspended, together with the deadlines applicable thereto and the type of formalities, except those relating for organisational and investigation purposes that are strictly necessary to be adopted in order to avoid serious harm to the rights and interests of claimants, subject to the approval thereof.

4. Rules for fishing vessels, in coordination with the Social Marine Institute (Spanish acronym: ISM). Operating recommendations.

Vessels are a critical part of the food supply chain, and hence their functioning and operational capacity must be duly guaranteed. Crew members must respect and apply all aspects of these recommendations. The personal and social responsibility of all crew members is fundamental to minimise risk and avoid contagion.

If no crew member is affected by the disease, the vessel is a space that can offer isolation to third parties and must be maintained in this way as long as possible, harnessing tidal movements for as long as possible provided that sea conditions allow this, avoiding sailing into port until such time as the catch is sufficient or the holds are significantly full or the catch could be adversely affected. Self-protection measures should be determined at any event by the captain of the ship according to circumstances, adopting, should this prove necessary, the disembarkation of any crew member between tides to avoid contagion.

4.1 Deep-sea and LDWF fleet

If the catch is not sufficiently large, as mentioned in the previous point, the vessel is recommended not to return to port and remain at sea until completing its quota.

4.2. Fleet operating in national fishing waters

When its activity determines that its operations involve tidal movements whereby vessels should enter into port each day, this type of fleet is recommended to ensure that the crew uphold strict hygiene controls and follow the recommendations determined from time to time by the Ministry of Health.

Specific rules will be published in relation to access controls prior to setting sail, on the organisation and cleaning of the vessel and procedures for action in the event of a suspected or positive case of the coronavirus.

Non official translation