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The Warsaw Voice » Special Sections » June 3, 2014
Polska…tastes good!
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Too Much Caution
June 3, 2014   
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By Marek Sawicki, PhD, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development

Caution is a good thing, but never in excess. The embargo on Polish pork is still in force even though not a single new case of African swine fever (ASF) has been detected in Poland after two wild boar infected with the ASF virus were found dead near the Belarusian border six months ago. And not a single case of the disease has been reported among domesticated pigs in Poland.

The most puzzling thing is that our closest neighbor, Ukraine, was one of the first countries to impose the embargo and the Ukrainians did not announce until mid-May that they were ready for talks on the matter. At the same time, they made no mention of any plans to lift an embargo on Polish beef that they imposed back in 2007. I hope we will be able to settle that soon as well.

Pork exports are extremely important to us, especially when it comes to markets in Asia. Polish food has a very good press in China and is regarded as premium quality food, almost like organic food. An estimated 400 million people in China are now able to afford to buy products at prices above the average. China also buys the kind of animal products that we do not sell anywhere else. I should mention that the value exports of Polish pork to Asian countries has approached that of pork exports to markets beyond Poland’s eastern border.

Exports to Asia are a vital issue for us. We have been working to win these markets and once you drop an anchor in a market, it is worth expanding your range of products in order to stay there, as it is much harder to return to a market that has been lost. For that reason, in mid-May I went to China, Singapore and South Korea, where I talked with many veterinary officials in charge of allowing our pork onto those markets. The procedures take a very long time, but there is a chance they will not take the longest they possibly could and that our pork will be back. We need to remember that China has vast herds of livestock and it is only natural that the Chinese are extra-cautious in fear of African swine fever. I presented in detail the measures that Poland had taken to prevent the spread of ASF. I would say those were model measures. We prevented the dangerous virus from penetrating any further inside the country, so I can see no reason that the embargo should continue. The situation we are dealing with in Poland shows that many ASF-related procedures should be reviewed at the international level, especially those that pertain to foreign trade restrictions.

During my visit to Asia, I was accompanied by Krzysztof Jażdżewski, the acting chief veterinary officer, and Krzysztof Niemczuk, the head of the National Veterinary Research Institute in Puławy. They also took part in a highly important seminar in Beijing. After clarifications had been made, the Chinese for the first time in history said they were willing to propose for pork imports from Poland to be divided into regions. If an inspection finds that everything is in order, a door will open for Polish pork exports to China to resume. I need to add that exports to Vietnam and Hong Kong continue undisturbed.

While in Asia, I also attended food fairs in Seoul and Shanghai. Over 40 Polish companies came to Seoul and around 60 companies to Shanghai to exhibit their products there. It’s clear that Polish enterprises are interested in those markets, which augurs well for the future of Poland’s agricultural and food exports. For the time being, 10 Polish poultry processing plants, eight poultry breeders and 69 dairies have access to the Chinese market. This shows that efforts started several years ago to ensure access to the Chinese market are bringing tangible results.

With this in mind, I would like to highlight the importance of Poland’s new Rural Development Plan for 2014-2020. We have assigned the bulk of the funds to increasing the efficiency of farms and to environmental protection. Out of the total of 13.5 billion euros at our disposal, we have earmarked 7.1 billion euros for measures designed to help as many small and medium-sized farms as possible to become economically independent. We are planning to achieve that by, for example, channeling funds so as to enable the modernization of farms and the restructuring of small farms, as well as for bonuses for young farmers and payments to small farm owners transferring their farms to successors. This should help farms restructure and become more efficient. Ideas such as those should make sure that the EU’s new 2014-2020 budget creates solid foundations for the development of Polish agriculture.

We have vast funds to spend and we should spend them as effectively as possible. But the major challenge that awaits us is to cut red tape and radically simplify the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy—something that we were unable to accomplish while working on the 2014-2020 budget. I am convinced, however, that we will have enough time to persuade others that this is the right approach and that, after 2020, the Common Agricultural Policy will be made simpler and thus more efficient and capable of more swiftly responding to rapid global changes.
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