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The Warsaw Voice » Special Sections » December 1, 2014
Polska… tastes good!
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Exports Strong Despite Russian Embargo
December 1, 2014   
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By Marek Sawicki, PhD, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development

The Russian embargo remains a thorny issue. The problem has been dragging on because of the European Commission’s delayed response and insufficient funds assigned for stabilizing the fruit and vegetable market. The problem has been accentuated by the Russian embargo on milk and dairy products. Meanwhile, bird flu has been detected in Germany, the Netherlands and Britain. And yet the EU has started a debate on downsizing next year’s agriculture budget.

During a session of EU ministers responsible for agriculture and fisheries held in Brussels Nov. 10, I once again voiced Poland’s proposals on mitigating the effects of the Russian embargo. I highlighted the necessity to make intervention prices more realistic, as these prices have not been changed for years. My proposals included the extension, until May next year, of compensation for products that have been pulled off the market, mainly for charity purposes. The next proposal concerned subsidies for exports and private storage, as such subsidies could without a doubt help stabilize markets. Finally, I clearly voiced Poland’s objection to the proposed reduction of the EU’s agriculture budget for 2015. This situation is nothing short of bizarre: the EU has problems caused by the Russian embargo, nobody knows how the bird flu problem will develop and yet, a proposal has been voiced to cut spending in the farming sector. We cannot agree to this.

Ever since the start of the crisis caused by the Russian embargo, Polish farmers have been suffering losses even though these farmers have had absolutely no influence on decisions made by politicians. And now the same politicians want to cut funds for agriculture. Still, we are used to hard work and we know what to do in crisis situations. At the beginning of 2008, I started efforts aimed at winning new markets for Polish products. Russia is close to Poland and we know its market well, which makes Russia a convenient market. But at the same time, this has always been an uncertain market. We have succeeded in becoming less dependent on Russia over the past decade. There used to be a time when around 30 percent of Poland’s produce went to Russia, but now, the figure is down to a little over 6 percent. Our hard work is starting to bring tangible results. Poland is present on 76 markets around the world and I mean countries outside the EU. For example, the market in Japan has recently opened to Polish beef. The situation is also improving in terms of trade in agricultural products with our closest neighbors. Ukraine wants to import Polish beef, pork and pork products, although with conditions attached: pork products from Podlasie province are excluded. Furthermore, as of August 2014 we have been able to export ruminant meat and biological material from ruminants to Belarus. Good news is coming from Singapore, which has presented a list of conditions that need to be met before Singapore accepts Poland’s measures to regionalize African swine flu (ASF). Once that happens, Poland will be able to start exporting pork to Singapore again. Chile, in turn, has said it is opening its market to Polish pork, gelatin and collagen. Promising news is also arriving from Moldova, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, India, China and Iran.

The value of Polish food and agricultural exports topped 15 billion euros after the first nine months of 2014, thanks to an ongoing diplomatic campaign and the hard work of producers and exporters who are sparing no effort to conquer new markets, in part with the help of promotion funds created in 2009. Poland is highly likely to repeat its performance from last year. This only goes to show what we have long known: Polish food is delicious and its quality is high, which of course makes it increasingly popular with consumers in over 100 countries around the world.

Polish agriculture still has big untapped potential that needs to be strengthened. The new 2014-2020 Rural Development Program will help. In mid-November, we were one of the first countries to complete negotiations on the program with the European Commission and now we are only waiting for the program to be formally approved. The program’s provisions should let us lay firm foundations for the continuing development of Poland’s agricultural sector. I am convinced that linking as many farms as possible with the market, especially small and medium-sized farms, will help us achieve this goal.

Taking into account what I have said before, I am positive that this is the last rural development program to offer Poland financial resources on such a scale. The country will not have such resources available under the next EU financial perspective after 2020. However, judging by Poland’s experience so far, I am confident that we are capable of making effective use of what we have at our disposal at present and further increase the production of quality food that will prove a hit with new groups of consumers in even more countries across the world.

This is my last column this year. The holiday season is just around the corner and I would like to take this opportunity to wish readers a Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year. May your homes abound in excellent Polish food and delicious dishes made from Polish ingredients.
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