EU Commissioner outlines benefits and challenges of enlargement

Related tags Member states European union

EU Commissioner Sandra Kalniete believes that EU enlargement
promises huge benefits for the food production sector, but changes
must still be made to a number of current trade regimes.

Speaking at the Libramont Agriculture Fair on Friday, Kalniete highlighted the opportunities she believed an enlarged European Union (EU) of 25 would bring.

"Let us not forget that the number of consumers in that market has risen to 454 million,"​ she said. "And that this market is one without tariff restrictions, export quotas or trade barriers. It is clear that this offers opportunities for both EU-15 Member States and new Member States."

Kalniete pointed out that trade between the EU-15 and the new Member States has already significantly increased during the period preceding enlargement, and is likely to further increase in the years ahead.

In effect, EU enlargement has added a further 4 million farmers to the existing seven million in the EU. Enlargement has added 38 million hectares to the European farmland representing an increase of 30 per cent. An increase in production is estimated at 10 to 20 per cent for most food products, while the gross value added of agriculture would increase by 6 per cent.

Enlargement presents specific advantages for food producers and processors in the acceding countries. They now have access to the single market, to relatively stable prices, and new opportunities.

In addition, direct income support will be phased in gradually, and rural development programmes are being adopted and will soon be implemented. "These measures should help them in the coming years to improve their income prospects, to modernise their infrastructure, and to make their farms more viable and competitive in the enlarged Union,"​ said Kalniete.

However, she stressed that the gains will not be one-sided. Producers and processors in the 15 'old' Member States (EU-15), she said, will also benefit, notably from the expansion of the single market, but also from the widening of the EU's product base and agricultural expertise. Predicted income growth in the new Member States will lead to growing markets for quality and branded products, meat, fruits and vegetables, fresh milk products and cheese.

However, Kalniete was keen to stress that changes still need to be made in a number of production sectors. For example, she pointed out that in her opinion the current sugar regime is untenable.

"The current regime has survived without reform for over forty years; there is a lack of competition, consumers and the sugar-processing industry pay excessively high prices, intensive sugarbeet growing is causing environmental problems in many regions and subsidised exports are being roundly criticised throughout the world, above all by the developing countries,"​ she argued.

"The existing sugar regime in no way guarantees jobs, as many people claim. In the last ten years alone 17 000 jobs have been lost and hundreds of plants have been forced to close."

Kalniete contends that by gradually reducing the quota system, sustainable sugar production in Europe will be maintained sugarbeet growers given a fair chance and the industry made to become more competitive. It will also give consumers the prospect of lower sugar prices.

Commissioner Kalniete concluded by drawing attention to the European Commission's recent proposal to bring all existing rural development measures under a single instrument: the European Rural Development Fund.

"With our proposal to spend on average €13 billion a year on developing, modernising and maintaining the countryside in Europe, we want to increase the transparency and visibility of the EU's rural development policy, and we also want to make it simpler to apply and more driven by local players, rather then member states' governments or Brussels,"​ she said.

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