In July 2011, the EC launched a green paper on the future of promotion and information schemes for EU agricultural products. The aim is to establish ‘a more targeted and more ambitious strategy’ focused on ‘the quality, traditions and added-value of European agricultural and food products’.
The green paper is divided into four sections, with a section dealing with promotion of agricultural products on third-country markets. Promotion measures in non-EU markets accounted for 26% of total spending in this area between 2007 and 2010, and ‘the Court of Auditors deemed these measures to have had a positive impact’. To set this in context, the green paper notes the booming global markets for food and agricultural products and the growing competition from more aggressive players.
Value-added products accounted for 64% of the EU’s €90 billion of agricultural product exports in 2010. The green paper notes that the use of export refunds in support of these exports has been greatly reduced (‘€385 million in 2010 compared to more than €6,000 million in 2000’). Indeed, it places the revision of the promotion policy in the context of the phasing out of export refunds, the decoupling of farm payments and the reduced use of market management tools.
While product promotion is seen as primarily a role for the exporters and EU member states, it is felt that EU support can play a facilitating role in promoting the export of quality- differentiated products, with EU support targeting ‘consistent promotion measures following a clearly defined European strategy and objectives’. The EU is also seen as having an important role in opening up third-country markets to agricultural product exports through the negotiation of trade agreements.
Three areas where changes are being considered are:
- the provision of assistance ‘to help European farmers develop their marketing strategies’, via ‘studies of consumer habits … information days … interactive internet platforms’ and access to ‘infrastructure at European stands at international fairs’;
- the promotion of joint initiatives by SMEs in order to ‘reach a critical mass for trading in the external market’;
- helping newcomers to export by supporting ‘exploratory work’ (e.g. ‘trial campaigns or market studies’).
As part of the consultation process, the green paper poses the question: ‘What measures should be developed to achieve the aims set and thus optimise the European Union’s intervention in the external market?’
The paper looks at the issue of who is eligible for support. Currently support is limited to professional organisations, but the question is raised as to whether it should be extended to companies and chambers of commerce. This would broaden out sector coverage ‘to include sectors that are not necessarily structured through professional organisations.’ This would however ban brand-specific promotional measures, unless the brand was so well known that it was seen as representative of a broader range of EU quality products. This leads to the question of who should benefit, and whether priority should be given to certain beneficiaries.
The green paper proposes promoting greater consistency with similar CAP measures and notes a need to more effectively identify and define the types of measure to be supported, consistent with the EU’s underlying policy objectives. In this context, the paper poses the questions:
- Which agricultural and agri-food products should be eligible and what criteria should be used?
- What means of promotion should be used, and should this focus on key consumer messages?
The paper argues for a simplification of programme management procedures to reduce cost and facilitate access to support, and seeks suggestions on how this might most effectively be achieved.
EU farmers’ organisation Copa-Cogeca welcomed the green paper, but stressed that these measures should be ‘only a complementary measure and must not substitute for other instruments under the CAP, notably export refunds’.
The EC is seeking a major expansion of funding for the promotion of agri-food products on external markets, in part to compensate for the phasing out of export refunds. However, it should be noted that the product focus of EU-supported promotional measures is different from that of export refunds. While export refund support has primarily focused on undifferentiated bulk commodities, the agricultural product promotion programmes is increasingly focused on support for the export of value-added and quality-differentiated agri-food products.
The impact of these measures is thus likely to be quite different from the deployment of export refunds, the financial importance of which is now largely being addressed through the provision of decoupled farm payments (which allows EU prices to fall to world market prices levels without undermining the production base in the EU). Expanded support to agri-product promotion is intended to support the ongoing transition to increased exports of value-added and quality-differentiated products.
In this context, the most significant dimension for the ACP is the competition this could potentially generate with their own efforts to diversify into value-added food product exports (e.g. in high quality beef exports). Expanded ‘aid for trade’ support for ACP promotional efforts in the potentially affected sectors will therefore play a critical role.