December 18, 2014
16 December 2014 Speech EP PlenaryDebate Autonomus Trade Preferences for Moldovan apples, plums and grapes
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Madam President, for the EU this file is a gesture that is symbolic in purely economic terms, but is of great political significance at a critically historic juncture for Moldova and, indeed, for our entire European Neighbourhood. For Moldova, it is a breath of fresh air in a sector of vital importance for the Moldovan economy: fruit growing. Its importance, however, goes beyond apples and plums, as we shall see in a moment. It also serves as a practical demonstration of solidarity in the face of hardship.
The EU and Moldova signed their Association Agreement on 27 June 2014. The Moldovan Parliament quickly ratified it on 2 July 2014. As if by coincidence, shortly thereafter an import ban was imposed by Russia on agricultural products from Moldova. On 7 August 2014, Russia also imposed a ban on food imports from the EU itself in the context of the Ukrainian crisis, which, of course, is linked to the wider question of our Eastern Neighbourhood.
The root of the problem lies in the fact that Russia sees itself, wrongly of course, as the object of some sort of geopolitical plot by the Western world. It is a conflict generated by a dramatic clash of world views. It is the 19th century fighting the 21st century. Blood, invasion from within, propaganda, lies and apples became the ingredients of a very strange new form of warfare. Seeking some relief, the Moldovan authorities have turned to the EU requesting urgent support to reduce the economic impact of the Russian ban, in particular for the most important products of Moldovan food growers: apples, plums and table grapes. The Commission decided to respond positively. The Council agreed and I hope we, the Parliament, will also give our blessing this week.
The ban is hurting Moldova’s economy in a rather dramatic way. Agriculture accounts for around 40% of Moldova’s GDP. Its horticultural sector alone employs a quarter of a million people – that is 10% of the active Moldovan population. Obviously they mostly live in rural areas and they cultivate small and medium family plots.
A few words on the legal context of this proposal: the Autonomous Trade Preferences (ATPs) are an instrument whereby a trading power, such as ourselves, may offer concessions to a country in order to support its economy without asking for trade concessions in exchange. ATPs for Moldova were originally introduced by the EU in 2008 by the very regulation that we are amending this week. The Commission now proposes to amend the ATP regulation by introducing three new duty-free quotas for fresh apples (40 000 tonnes), tables grapes and plums (10 000 tonnes each). The quotas will apply until the end of 2015, when the whole regime will expire.
The quotas for the three products concerned are extremely limited in volume compared to the potentially competing EU production. For apples, for instance, which is the most sensitive product, it is only 0.4% of our production, and they address very different market segments than most EU production. More specifically, in light of the cultural and geographical proximity with Romania, it is very likely that most of the additional volumes of the three products will be absorbed easily by the Romanian market. For apples, for example, Romania this year has a fall of 22% in production, and the quota under discussion tonight covers only 8% only of Romanian production. So there is still a gap there to be filled by others.
A few words now in Romanian.
Sper ca autoritățile moldovene să reușească să transforme aceste cote într-o poveste de succes, care să ajute cu adevărat fermierii moldoveni. Și aș vrea să fac un apel și la operatorii economici din România, să folosească această oportunitate cu deschidere față de colegii din Republica Moldova. Merele, prunele și perele din Moldova sunt foarte gustoase și vă asigur că ele vor fi apreciate de consumatorii români dacă le vor găsi pe piață.