Does no one in Brussels understand the pig market?

Brussels looks set on destroying France’s hopes of reopening some trade in pigmeat with Russia, with European farmers union Copa-Cogeca adding its support to the EC’s opposition to the deal, writes Pig World editor Graeme Kirk.

At an EU farm ministers meeting on Monday, Brussels came out in favour of looking at introducing measures to support the pig sector, while also reinforcing its view that any negotiations on reopening trade with Russia must be carried out on a united EU basis, with no scope for piecemeal country-by-country agreements.

Bizarrely, Copa-Cogeca welcomed the declaration of united action, but went on to say it regretted that a decision to introduce private storage for pigmeat had still not be taken by the EC.

Supporting subsidies rather than allowing the sector to trade its way out of trouble seems a bit odd, but maybe Copa-Cogeca is wary of upsetting the other food sectors it represents. Even it must see that allowing France to begin limited exports of pig fat and offal to Russia would help reduce the pressure on the whole European pig industry.

Since the Russian bans (the ASF ban introduced a year ago, and the offal and fat ban introduced in October 2014), we have seen European pork prices fall significantly. The heady premiums that France and Spain used to enjoy have evaporated as prices have come into line with German values, and the UK has also dropped because of the threat of cheap pork imports from the EU.

This is because our pigmeat markets are so closely intertwined. Problems hitting one country – especially if it’s one of the big producers like Germany – will reverberate throughout the EU. Just look at how the Russian fat and offal ban has cut the value of our cull sows, most of which go to Germany, by about 40% in 12 months.

And the same would be true if there was a positive development in the market. We’d all benefit, even if only in a small way.

You’ve got to wonder how Irish pig producers are reacting to the new EC agriculture commissioner, Phil Hogan’s, pronouncements. Ireland was one of the countries that enjoyed a strong export trade with Russia and was left with trucks stopped at the Russian border when the ban was introduced. To hear that their countryman is resolved to doing everything he can to prevent countries with initiative resuming the trade must be difficult to bear.

The truth is that Brussels is playing politics with the pig sector, and every other food product that it’s managed to get barred from Russia. Although agriculture is important to the EU, Monday’s meeting of farm ministers was only a side-show to the main event on Thursday this week when foreign ministers will discuss introducing even more sanctions on Russia because of its latest incursions into Ukraine.

If you need evidence of this, the website euobserver.com reports that the EU farm minister’s discussion on trade with Russia on Monday saw the French agriculture minister leave the chamber, while the same meeting saw the Polish agriculture minister, Marek Sawicki, describe France (and Germany for that matter) as “Russophile”.

“France has two ships to sell, so it’s looking for any way to improve Franco-Russian relations,” he said. “France has shown many times its relations with Russia are more important to it than its relations inside the EU and that disturbs me.”

Mr Sawicki went on to say that both the EU health commissioner, Vytenis Andriukaitis, and the farm commissioner, Phil Hogan, had told him on Monday that they didn’t give a green light for bilateral deals with Russia.

He added that Mr Andriukaitis had gone even further, stating that that Ladislav Miko, the EU commission official who negotiated the Russian terms for the deal with France, “had no authority” to do so.

The UK doesn’t currently have the necessary export licences to send pigmeat to Russia, so we haven’t directly lost out out on export sales, but we have suffered from the consequences of the loss of the Russian trade. With the parliamentary election here a little more than three months away, the EC’s political meddling won’t do the pro-EU parties any favours if the organisation that was set up to promote trade continues to do exactly the opposite.

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