Co-ops have promised that “renewed pressure for market supports” will be placed on European Commissioner for Agriculture Janusz Wojciechowski in a meeting later this week.

The commissioner is due to meet via conference call with the Irish Cooperative Organisation Society (ICOS) and other European co-operative representative bodies this Wednesday, April 22.

Ahead of the meeting ICOS confirmed that its president Jerry Long and European affairs executive Alison Graham will represent the Irish dairy processing co-operatives on the call with Commissioner Wojciechowski.

Speaking in advance of the meeting, Long said:

While the lack of action taken by the EU to support agri-food markets is both disappointing and frustrating so far, our message on the difficulties faced by farmers and agri-food cooperatives as a result of this crisis is being heard and discussions are ongoing at the highest levels of the EU.

The president outlined his organisation’s disappointment in the commissioner’s comments last week where he acknowledged the “crisis situation” developing in dairy and the need for market management tools – but failed to find the necessary funding for such supports.

“This in a context where, by contrast, the European Central Bank has announced a €750 billion bond-buying programme to support the assets and economies of member states,” the president noted.

Long said that, instead, Commissioner Wojciechowski has “used this crisis to argue that the agri-food chain must become more localised” and focused on domestic markets, with a reduced concentration on exports.

Describing this as “an extraordinary proposition for an agriculture commissioner to make,” Long said:

We hope that this does not represent a new direction in the European Commission’s position, which would have serious implications for our production here in Ireland where we export up to 95% of our output at some €13 billion in value and are proud to say we are feeding families across the world.

“Exporting is a key means by which agricultural co-operatives add value to products and our presence on markets around the world has enabled us to become more resilient to market disruption, not less.

“Indeed, the value of the EU’s single market and its international trade policy lies in the opportunity it affords us to specialise in certain product categories. We feel strongly that we need to avoid any protectionist sentiment.

“Instead we welcome the leadership shown by EU Agricultural ministers, who last week collectively wrote to the European Commission seeking immediate additional supports for the sector, including Aids for Private Storage (APS) of dairy and beef products, which have been a key ask of ours since the beginning of the crisis, given the challenges we face since the closure of the food service sector.”

Long also pointed out that agriculture MEPs also sent a letter to the commission demanding that necessary action be taken to support the market and that the required funding should quickly be found.

We keenly await a swift follow-up on these calls to action and will continue to keep the pressure on until the necessary steps are taken.

“Supporting our agri-food sector right now will be critical for the recovery of the European economy, particularly for our rural areas, in the next phase of this crisis.

“Failing to act now, will mean we pay for the crisis 10 times over in the coming months and years as we address longer term damage,” Long concluded.