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EU-Mexico talks underway for agreement on organic trade

European Commission and Mexico to start negotiations on a bilateral agreement on trade in organic products

The European Commission and government of Mexico have started negotiations towards a bilateral agreement on trade in organic products.

A commission press release said both sides aim to “swiftly conclude” an agreement that would foster expansion of the market for organic farmers, reduce the burden for companies and supply more organic products for consumers.

Mexico’s Secretary of Agriculture José Calzada and EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development Phil Hogan met in Mexico City on February 10 to launch negotiations, “with a view to acknowledging the equivalence of each other’s organic legislation and control systems.” Hogan is visiting Mexico from 10 to 12 February 2016, accompanied by a delegation of 35 European businesses representing a wide range of the European Union’s agri-food sector.

According to the statement, organic farming is going through a period of expansion in Mexico. In 2014, the total area planted with organic crops amounted to 24.5 thousand ha, producing 104.4 thousand tons of organic products, valued at 1,062 million pesos. Tomatoes, coffee, strawberries and raspberries stand out as the leaders in value generation among organic crops.

In the EU, the organic sector has been rapidly developing in recent years, with a total area of 10.3 million ha cultivated as organic in 2014, up from 6.4 million ha in 2005. The EU market for organic products amounts to some 40% of the world market – second only to the US (43%).


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New EU promotion policy for farm products starts today


“Enjoy, it’s from Europe”: the new European Commission promotion policy that applies as of today will help the sector’s professionals break into or consolidate international markets and make European consumers more aware of the efforts made by European farmers, according to the commission.

It has promised to make more resources available, to increase the co-financing rate and to cut the red tape for the approval of projects. “This is part of an effort to increase progressively the available EU budget for promotion, from €61 million in 2013 (when the new rules were proposed) to €200 million in 2019,” the commission said in a press release.

The 2016 programme targets a selected list of non-EU countries where there is the highest potential for growth in particular to the sectors experiencing a particularly difficult market situation, like dairy and pig meat. Of the total amount, €30 million were specifically earmarked in the support package unveiled by Commissioner Hogan early September to support promotion measures in these two sectors. 

Money for promotional programmes

The British Leafy Salads Association (BLSA) is one of two UK organisations among 33 beneficiaries of new EU funding for initiatives aimed at promoting agricultural products, reports Croner-i.

The BLSA will receive €142,480 from the Commission to promote fresh fruit and vegetables. It was funded as part of the last tranche of promotional programmes to be approved under the system established by EU Regulation 3/2008. From today (December 1, 2015) the new rules introduced by Regulation 1144/2014 will see a wider range of products and organisations eligible for funding.

For more information on “Enjoy, it’s from Europe“:

Image: By Amio Cajander [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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EU looking at how to increase acceptance of ‘ugly’ fruit & vegetables

How to increase consumer acceptance of imperfect fruit and vegetables is being examined as part of a European Commission behavioural study on food choices and eating habits.

How to increase consumer acceptance of imperfect fruit and vegetables is being examined as part of a European Commission behavioural study on food choices and eating habits.

The research, taking place in the context of part the Milan Expo 2015, is titled “A behavioural study on food choices and eating habits” and its publication expected by the end of this year, according to the European Parliament’s Committee on Petitions.

It mentioned the research in its response to a petition on offering second-class fruit and vegetables in supermarkets. The petitioner, Germany’s Maxie Schlemmer-Schmidbauer, advocated the introduction of rules allowing fruit and vegetables which don’t meet the required standards to be sold in greengrocer’s shops and supermarkets, to prevent them from being destroyed.

Asked to respond, the Commission told the committee that while specific marketing standards remain in place for 10 types of fruit and vegetables, national authorities can permit the sale of all fruit and vegetables, regardless of their size and shape. “Member States can allow shops to sell products that do not respect the standards as long as they are labelled appropriately so that consumers can differentiate them from those categories defined by marketing standards (e.g.: ‘extra’, ‘class I’ and ‘class II’ fruit),” it said.

In its conclusion, the committee said current EU rules permit Member States to allow the marketing of misshapen fruits and vegetables provided that their presentation is not misleading for consumers. ”In co-operation with Member States and stakeholders, the Commission aims to promote good practices to prevent food waste including social innovation to facilitate use of misshapen fruit and vegetables in the food supply chain and by consumers,” it said.

Image by Taz [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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EU High Court fixes €9.8M banana cartel fine on Del Monte & Weichert

Fresh Del Monte Produce Inc. and a previous distributor must pay a fine of €9.8 million for fixing banana prices between 2000 and 2002, following a decision by the European Union’s highest court.

Fresh Del Monte Produce Inc. and a previous distributor must pay a fine of €9.8 million for fixing banana prices between 2000 and 2002, following a decision by the European Union’s highest court.

On Wednesday, the European Court of Justice reversed an earlier decision by the General Court to reduce the fine by 10%.

The General Court had granted the 10% reduction of the fine to Del Monte and the previous distributor, Hamburg-based Internationale Fruchtimport Gesellschaft Weichert GmbH & Co. KG (Weichert), in respect of Weichert’s cooperation during the European Commission’s investigation into a banana cartel.

But the higher court said the General Court made an error in law by granting the reduction… “to Del Monte and Weichert in respect of Weichert’s cooperation during the administrative procedure, even though Weichert’s conduct could not be regarded as revealing a genuine spirit of cooperation.”

Among its findings, the European Court of Justice said “Weichert merely replied to a simple request for information, it is clear that it did not provide information to the Commission without having been requested to do so.”

It said that a fine reduction “…is justified only where an undertaking provides information to the Commission without being asked to do so. It is established case-law that the conduct of the undertaking concerned must not only facilitate the Commission’s task of establishing the existence of the infringement but also reveal a genuine spirit of cooperation…”

“Any other interpretation would undermine both the purpose and the incentive effect of the leniency provisions as, first, it would have the effect of granting to all parties participating in a cartel a reduction of the fine if they provided to the Commission, at the Commission’s request, useful information and/or evidence and, second, it would encourage undertakings to adopt a ‘wait-and-see’ approach rather than supplying the Commission, on their own initiative, and as quickly and as comprehensively as possible, with such information and evidence.”

Background to cartel probe

According to information published by the Commission, the cartel investigation started with surprise inspections in 2005, prompted by an application for immunity by Chiquita.

“The Commission found that banana importers Chiquita, Dole and Weichert participated in a cartel between 2000 and 2002 in violation of Article 101 TFEU. The cartel members coordinated the setting of their quotation prices for bananas in eight EU Member States.

“At the time of the infringement, Weichert was trading mainly Del Monte branded bananas and was 80% owned by Del Monte. The cartel affected Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Luxembourg, The Netherlands and Sweden, where the combined retail value of bananas sold in 2002 amounted to around €2.5 billion,” it said.

In a press release in 2008, the Commission said that the banana business is organised in weekly cycles. “During the relevant period the importers of leading brands of bananas into the eight EU Member States principally served by North European ports set and then announced every Thursday morning their reference price (their “quotation price”) for the following week.

“On numerous occasions over the three year period there were bilateral phone calls among the companies, usually the day before they set their price. During these calls the companies discussed or disclosed their pricing intentions: how they saw the price evolving or whether they intended to maintain, increase or decrease the quotation price.”


European Court of Justice judgment
European Commission


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European Commission should better protect EU banana growers, says Spanish MEP

Canary Islands politician Gabriel Mato wants the European Commission to act faster if banana imports from non-EU countries such as Peru and Colombia exceed agreed limits for a preferential customs duty.

Canary Islands politician Gabriel Mato wants the European Commission to act faster if banana imports from non-EU countries such as Peru and Colombia exceed agreed limits for a preferential customs duty.

Mato, a member of Spain’s ruling party Partido Popular, said the Commission should report to the European Parliament weekly – and not just at the end of the year – so timely action can be taken if limits are exceeded.

In a press release in Spanish, Mato said it had been noted in the Parliament’s Committee on International Trade that Peru had exceeded its limit in 2013 and 2014. He said that by the time this was reported at the end of the relevant year, it was too late to implement a safeguard clause suspending the preferential customs duty.

During a meeting of the committee in Brussels on May 6 he called for more to be done to protect EU growers. If asked, they would tell the Commission they are “in a permanent state of crisis,” he said. With the signing of an agreement with Ecuador on the horizon meaning the entry of even more bananas, action on the issue is all the more important, he said.

According to the Commission, in November 2014 it appeared that the imports into the EU of fresh bananas from Peru exceeded the relevant threshold.

However, it said, imports of fresh bananas from Peru represented only 1.9 % of the total imports of fresh bananas into the EU for January-September 2014. Also, imports of fresh bananas from other traditional importing countries, notably Colombia, Costa Rica and Panama, remained largely below the thresholds defined for them in comparable stabilisation mechanisms.

It also noted that:

  • the average wholesale banana price in the EU market in October 2014 (0.98 EUR/kg) did not register notable changes compared to banana price averages for the previous months;
  • that “there is neither an indication that the stability of the Union market has been disturbed by the imports of fresh bananas from Peru in excess of the defined annual trigger import volume, nor that this had any significant impact on the situation of Union producers” and
  • “there is no threat of serious deterioration or a serious deterioration for producers in the outermost regions of the Union.”

The Commission concluded that the suspension of preferential customs duty on imports of bananas originating in Peru would not be appropriate but said it would continue to closely monitor banana imports from Peru.


Gabriel Mato press release: Exigimos a la CE que proteja a los productores europeos de plátano e intervenga antes cuando la entrada de banano de terceros países supere los límites fijados

COMMISSION IMPLEMENTING DECISION of 17 December 2014 determining that the temporary suspension of the preferential customs duty established under the stabilisation mechanism for bananas of the Trade Agreement between the European Union and its Member States, of the one part, and Colombia and Peru, of the other part, is not appropriate for imports of bananas originating in Peru for the year 2014




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More European Commission help for states most harmed by Russian veto

euro comm


Amid tumbling prices, the European Commission has promised further aid for member states most affected by the Russian ban blocking imports of certain EU products.

Its additional emergency measures for perishable fruit and vegetables will run until the end of next June. However, its total spending under existing such measure and the new scheme will remain below the €165 million it initially set as the maximum expenditure.

Based on historic export volumes to Russia in the last three years, it says it will now set new eligible volumes for the withdrawn from the market of certain fruit and vegetables for 12 member states.

EU agricultural commissioner Phil Hogan acknowledged that while the current exceptional support programme – which expire on December 31 – eased pressure on fruit and vegetable growers following the Russian ban, “a downward pressure on prices persists for some products in some regions of the EU.”

In a press release, the commission said the new scheme will apply to the 12 member states “which exported most fruit and vegetables to Russia on average during the January-May period (April to May for certain fruit where the January to March period was already covered by the previous measure) during the last three years.”

Before the ban, Spain’s fruit and vegetable sector alone sold “goods worth approximately EUR 225 million to Russia,” according to Spanish member of the European Parliament Esteban González Pons (PPE).

For more information on the EU measures:  Market support for perishable fruit & vegetable to continue in 2015”


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Russian embargo hitting Croatian mandarin growers hard


European Commission says additional targeted support measures cover mandarins


About half of all mandarin exports from Croatia’s Neretva Valley ended up in Russia, last year. This year a record harvest of 80,000 tons is expected but many growers risk going bust due to the combined effects of the Russian embargo and an already difficult economic context, according to Croatian member of the European Parliament Davor Ivo Stier (PPE).

Stier said it will be hard for them to find alternative markets in a short period. The total value of the mandarin market in Croatia is roughly €50 million and an estimated 10,000 people there depend on mandarins as a main or additional source of income.

“A large amount of money has been invested up to this point in production materials,” Stier said. “As a result of these investments and of people’s hard work, this year it was anticipated that revenues for the sector would amount to €30‐40 million. However, Russia’s embargo, coupled with an already‐difficult economic situation, could result in many mandarin producers collapsing.”

In answer to Stier’s questions about the mandarin growers’ eligibility for exceptional support from the EU agricultural crisis fund for the effects of the Russian sanctions, Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Cioloş said on behalf of the Commission that there is now support for mandarin growers.

Support for citrus producers was not included in its initial exceptional market support measures. “However, the Commission has prepared additional targeted support measures for fruit and vegetables hit by the Russian ban taking into account new harvest and export seasons. The new measures include mandarins and (were) published on 30 September,” Cioloş said.