European Scrutiny Committee Contents


6 Common organisation of fishery markets

(33026)

12516/11

+ ADDs 1-2

COM(11) 416

Draft Regulation on the Common Organisation of the Markets in Fishery and Aquaculture Products

Legal baseArticles 42 and 43(2) TFEU; co-decision; QMV
DepartmentEnvironment, Food & Rural Affairs
Basis of considerationMinister's letter of 26 November 2012
Previous Committee ReportsHC 428-xxxvii (2010-12), chapter 5 (12 October 2011) and HC 86-vii (2012-13), chapter 5 (4 July 2012)
Discussion in CouncilSee para 6.8 below
Committee's assessmentPolitically important
Committee's decisionNot cleared; further information awaited

Background

6.1 The provisions governing the common market organisation (CMO) for fisheries and aquaculture products are currently set out in Council Regulation (EC) No 104/2000, and include common marketing standards; labelling provisions; conditions relating to the recognition and operation of producer organisations; the setting of EU guide and withdrawal prices; and trade with third countries. In July 2011, the Commission put forward, as part of its wider proposals for reforming the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), this draft Regulation, which sought to increase incentives for sustainable production; to improve the market position and potential of EU production; and to improve the connection between EU production and structural market changes.

6.2 Although the new measure would replace Council Regulation (EC) No 104/2000, it would reproduce some of the main elements, such as those relating to producer organisations, marketing standards, and consumer information. However, as we noted in our Report of 12 October 2011, it would make a number of significant changes, notably the objectives of producer organisations would include the promotion of viable fishing activities and the handling of unwanted catches; the EU would no longer set guide and withdrawal prices; publicly funded intervention would cease; and there would be a chapter specifying the extent to which EU competition law would apply to the activities of producer organisations.

6.3 We also noted that the proposals seemed to be broadly in line with the UK's objectives for reform, but as the Government had said that it would be providing an Impact Assessment, we took the view that it would be sensible to await that before taking a definitive decision on the handling of the document.

Subsequent correspondence

6.4 The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Natural Environment and Fisheries at the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Mr Richard Benyon) wrote to us on 11 June 2012, alerting us to the fact that this document, together with the new draft Regulation governing the conservation aspects of the CFP, would be on the agenda for the Fisheries Council the following day. He added that, as the UK had a key role to play in securing cost-effective reform, it would wish to support the Presidency's attempt to secure a partial general approach, in which case a scrutiny over-ride might be necessary.

6.5 After our Chairman had replied on 14 June, saying that we would in that event expect a further letter from the Minister, we received from him a letter of 24 June, confirming that the Presidency had eventually been able, with UK support, to gain Council agreement to a partial general approach on this proposal (and on the CFP basic regulation). He said that he believed that this represented a good deal, with mandatory labelling requirements brought mostly in line with other EU labelling requirements, and that the alignment of marketing standards with the conservation standards set out in the CFP, would ensure that these regulations enforce the objectives for sustainable fisheries and help to maintain healthy fish stocks. In addition, there had been some strengthening of Producer Organisation responsibilities and a phasing out of intervention mechanisms (though ideally the UK would have preferred to see this mechanism removed entirely with immediate effect), and the agreement also usefully deferred any decision on the introduction of further mandatory labelling requirements for an EU sustainability label.

6.6 We commented in our Report of 4 July 2012 that, although this proposal did not in the main present any major difficulties, and was politically of considerably less importance than the parallel proposals for reforming the conservation aspects of the CFP, it was nevertheless regrettable that the Government should have agreed to a partial general approach, particularly whilst the document was still under scrutiny. We also pointed out that we had not received the Impact Assessment which the Government had said it was preparing, and we asked to see that before taking a final view on this document.

Minister's letter of 26 November 2012

6.7 We have now received from the Minister a letter of 26 November 2012 enclosing a preliminary analysis of the impact of the proposal. This says that the proposed reform of the CMO will benefit members of producer organisations in that their increased responsibilities and resources will provide new business opportunities; help deliver the objectives of the CFP, by including a requirement for producer organisations to deal with any discards; and also benefit consumers by enabling them to make more informed choices through improved and more accurate labelling. On the other hand, he says that the provision of additional consumer information will give rise to costs, particularly in relation to catch dates, where a vessel has been at sea for a long period, where a consignment comprises catches from more than one vessel, and where a production run within a processing factory consists of more than one consignment, bearing in mind that, although processors already have a high degree of traceability, this is carried out at batch, rather than individual pack level.

6.8 The Minister also says that the European Parliament has now adopted a position on the proposal, and would like to see it amended to support more transparent labelling, with labels including information on the gear type, fish stock and flag state of the vessel. It has also voted to strengthen the role of producer organisations, and has asked the Commission to investigate an EU-wide eco-label for fish by 2015, which could be used voluntarily to inform consumers that the fish were caught sustainably. He says that the Council has produced a document comparing its position with that of the European Parliament, and that Council working group discussions are expected to continue early in the New Year.

Conclusion

6.9 Whilst we are glad to have this update, the practical difficulties which now appears could arise from the requirement to provide consumer information on the date of catch came as something of surprise, as these had not been apparent to us from the material which the Minister had previously provided (including his original Explanatory Memorandum of 16 August 2011). We were also concerned to learn that the European Parliament should be seeking further changes in this area, and, for that reason alone, we would be interested to see the document which the Council has prepared setting out its position and that of the European Parliament. We would also like the Minister to keep us informed of any further discussions. In the meantime, we will continue to hold the document under scrutiny.



 
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Prepared 13 December 2012