Select Committee on European Union Fortieth Report


Letter from the Chairman to Lord Bach, Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Sustainable Farming and Food, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

  Your Explanatory Memorandum (EM) dated 20 January was considered by Sub-Committee G on 2 March.

  We note from your EM that this Proposal is still at a very early stage and may well be changed during technical discussions at Council Working Groups which were expected to start some time this month, although no timescale for consideration had apparently been agreed. We also note that the Department is carrying out further consultations with interested parties in the UK about the Proposal.

  In the circumstances, we appreciate that the Government is not yet able to take a definitive position on the Proposal. For the same reason, we are retaining the document under scrutiny until further notice.

  Your EM states that the Government will be seeking clarification from the Commission on several issues, but does not say what they are. We trust that any serious problems for UK interests which might have been identified in your initial consultations would have been recorded in your EM. But you have said nothing about the results of those consultations.

  It is impossible for us to tell from the documentation we have seen so far what effect the Proposal is likely to have on UK commercial interests, especially important British products such as Scotch whisky, Northern Irish whiskey and gin. Nor do we understand how the table of geographical indications in Annex III might affect UK vodka production. Since the Proposal is being handled by your Department, rather than the DTI, we also wonder whether it has any implications for UK agriculture.

  Nor does your EM tell us what effect the Proposal might have on consumers or to what extent consumers representatives will be included in the Department's latest round of consultations. We attach particular importance to this aspect.

  More generally, it is not clear to us how the Proposal will change the existing Regulations or what the technical implications are. We therefore cannot judge whether it is likely to be a worthwhile improvement on existing legislation.

  Your views on whether the Comitology procedures which the Committee propose to introduce are likely to be appropriate and effective would also be appreciated.

  We will expect to have a progress report at a suitable stage in the negotiations and would be glad if you would ensure that it covers all the points mentioned above.

2 March 2006

Letter from Lord Bach to the Chairman

  Thank you for your letter of 2 March concerning the above proposal which is still at a very early stage. As you note in your letter, there will be changes during the technical discussions at Council Working Groups, the first two of which took place on 3 and 17 March, with the next one scheduled for 11 April.

  Since the Explanatory Memorandum was submitted to you on 20 January, Defra has received a number of detailed technical comments from the industry and some more general ones. These mainly cover points of clarification, on the relationship between the (horizontal) labelling Directive (2000/13/EC) and the specific labelling requirements in the proposal and on the status of the technical file that needs to be submitted to the Commission for existing and new geographical indications, such as Scotch Whisky and Plymouth Gin. However, there are no real problems for the UK as the proposal in most instances retains the status quo with the current rules, Where the rules are different our industry do not see any major problems for them.

  The proposal, as it currently stands, is likely to have no adverse effects on UK commercial interests, since it meets the needs of UK Industry, in relation to Scotch Whisky, vodka, whisky in general and gin. However, the definition of London Gin will need to be altered to bring it in line with the definition recently agreed by the European Spirits Producers Organisation (CEPS), which is not expected to cause any problems for other Member States and is supported by our industry. The main impact on UK commercial interests is that part of the proposal requiring vodka producers to label their products with the raw materials used. Initial soundings from the industry suggests that the overall costs of this will be modest (around £0.6 million for a vodka industry worth £l.7 billion).

  The impact of the proposal on UK agriculture is likely to be nil, since the definitions of the key spirits produced in the UK remain unchanged over those currently set down in EC law.

  As far as the effect of the proposal on consumers is concerned, this is expected to be minimal. The proposal aims to improve clarity for consumers in terms of labelling, something the Government welcomes. The only significant proposed change, ie the requirement to label vodka with its raw materials, should help consumers make a more informed choice about the type of vodka they wish to buy, so should be welcomed.

  As far as existing Regulations go, the proposal is primarily designed to organise existing rules in a clearer way, whilst at the same time update certain aspects to account for technological developments. It also, importantly, updates the existing Regulations regarding WTO compliance and Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) in relation to the registration of geographical indications (GIs) and the requirement for all GIs to be supported by a technical file. This will make it easier for Member States to register new GIs and will provide a more legally robust protection for Gls.

  The UK takes the view that the proposed Comitology changes are useful and worthwhile since they will enable Member States to get technical and other changes into EC law more quickly than at present. In a sector known for innovation, this will be a valuable tool in recognising new products. This should be of benefit to both consumers and producers.

  I will ensure that you have a progress report on this dossier at a suitable stage in the negotiations.

9 April 2006

Letter from the Chairman to Lord Rooker, Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

  Lord Bach's letter to me dated 9 April was considered by Sub-Committee G on 11 May.

  We welcome the Government's assurance that this essentially technical revision of the existing regulations presents no significant problems for UK industry or consumers and should bring some welcome improvements.

  That being so, we are prepared to release this document from scrutiny so long as it is clearly understood that if further negotiations produce significant changes to the present text they would have to be submitted for fresh Parliamentary scrutiny. It would be appreciated if you could report to us for the record when the new Regulation is finally adopted.

12 May 2006

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