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The Warsaw Voice » Special Sections » November 3, 2014
Polska….tastes good!
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Dividing Farmers
November 3, 2014   
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by Marek Sawicki, PhD, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development

In my previous column, I said a lot about the Russian embargo and, unfortunately, I have to say that the situation has not changed much since then. I have been proved right in my earlier opinion that the amount assigned for stabilizing the market for fruit and vegetables is too low and that an inadequate mechanism has been used to address the problem. More than two months since the embargo came into effect, farmers are still being grouped into two classes: those who are unaffiliated and those who are members of farmers’ associations. I believe that such a differentiation, based on how farmers run their farms, is completely unjustified. After all, both groups are farmers and both produce fruit and vegetables whose imports to Russia are banned.

Ever since the restrictions came into effect, not a single day has passed without me addressing this issue. An intensive diplomatic campaign is being conducted to have products covered by the restrictions sold on external markets. Anyone who deals with exports knows very well that success in this department takes time.

This reminds me of a situation I had to face soon after I became minister of agriculture and rural development in 2007. At the beginning of 2008, we were working to unlock the Russian market and back then I was already fully aware that the market was shaky and unstable. But I can see how, due to its proximity to Poland, Russia is nevertheless a convenient market for many producers and exporters who have been active there for years. Still, the limitations and restrictions that have been introduced much too often in recent years have, unfortunately, necessitated a different approach. That is how we started extensive work on other markets. The Agriculture Ministry and departments that answer to it are primarily responsible for negotiating conditions, including veterinary and phytosanitary certification, on which specific markets are accessible for different products. The next problem we needed to solve were insufficient funds for promotion and so we devised a special law on promotional funds. As a result, many promotional events were organized abroad and in Poland, and these efforts are producing results today. Polish products are available on a growing number of external markets. Consumers recognize Polish products and are keen to buy the food for its taste as well as high quality. I have been told many times that food from Poland is regarded as food of premium quality.

Economic affairs never cease to present new challenges and the European Commission’s recent decisions hardly make one feel optimistic. Every enterprise and every producer knows perfectly well that crises need to be addressed with quick and efficient action, proportionately to the threats such crises pose. In my opinion, the European Commission has failed to do so. A lot has been said about European solidarity and support for all kinds of efforts aimed at European integration. Meanwhile, what we have seen is differentiated support and farmers divided into groups. The Oct. 13 meeting of EU ministers responsible for agriculture and fisheries in Luxembourg also revealed considerable differences between individual countries. No decisions were made and national interests outweighed the interests of EU agriculture as a whole.

I am under the impression that EU policy makers do not entirely realize what could happen in the future. They seem to forget that the demand for food is going to rise sharply in the coming decades. By that time, we should work out ways to make sure that European agriculture is a major contributor to the global increase of food production. But that will take joint work and real solutions to problems and crises that might arise on the way.

When they introduce sanctions, however justified, politicians must not forget about the consequences of the sanctions, including their impact on fellow citizens. European farmers became the first victims of the EU sanctions against Russia and then life also became difficult for exporters and transportation companies. The number of people affected by sanctions is growing and this is something that needs to be remembered. As we declare solidarity with others, we tend to forget about solidarity within the EU and the need to build the single market while ensuring equal rights for everyone. Meanwhile, decisions made by the European Commission have differentiated between farmers and introduced unclear rules concerning compensation for them. Polish farmers who previously notified the authorities about their intention to withdraw their products from the market under rules laid out by the European Commission are now opting out of this mechanism, finding the compensation rates to be dramatically low. The farmers did not know the rates at the time of notifying the authorities and the Commission caused even more misunderstandings by introducing the “first come, first served” principle.

We still have a lot of work to do to upgrade these mechanisms.
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