The European Association of Banana Producers (APEB) and the Government of the Canary Islands have learned of the meeting held last December in Quito between the European Commission's General Trade Directorate and the ministers or vice-ministers of Trade of Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. This meeting served to address issues such as the negotiation of a new tariff reduction on banana imports, as well as other benefits for the bananas from these countries. It is believed that such measures would give a boost to the growing unfair competition, given the more lenient labor, social and phytosanitary regulations in these countries, when compared with the high European standards, say sources from the APEB and Plátano de Canarias in a statement.
They underline the "serious concern among European banana producers following the new negotiation opened by the General Trade Directorate of the European Commission with Colombia, Ecuador and Peru."
On the occasion of their presence at Fruit Logistica, in Berlin, an emergency meeting was held by representatives of the Canary Banana Producers' Association (Asprocan), Banana of Martinique and Guadeloupe (UGPBAN), Banana de Madeira (GESBA), as well as the Council of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Water and the Deputy Council for the Primary Sector of the Government of the Canary Islands. The aim was to jointly address issues relating to the meeting held by representatives of the European Commission with the Andean countries and their possible consequences for the European banana production.
After learning about the content of the meetings in Quito, the APEB and the Canary Executive have also requested an urgent meeting with the General Directorate of Trade of the European Commission, and they will ask the governments of Spain, France and Portugal for an urgent meeting of the Mixed European Banana Committee.
As revealed in the reports of the European Commission, the Andean countries have made a proposal to the Directorate General of Trade for a renegotiation of the tariffs on their imports into Europe. The Andean countries cited the clause that foresees improvements in the reduction of tariffs for bananas in 2019, which is included in the respective tariff reduction schedules of Colombia, Peru and Ecuador.
A substantial 57% reduction of the tariff since 2009
The APEB and the Canary Executive stressed that these third countries have already benefited from a substantial 57% reduction of the tariff since 2009, which represents a reduction of 101 Euro per ton.
Furthermore, "the APEB has highlighted the fact that none of these third countries have yet reached their currently authorized maximum export volumes under preferential tariffs. This means that they could still legally export almost one million tons more to the European market this year, which is 25% more than what they already export to Europe. Such an increase would be disastrous, so the Union should refuse the request of third countries to further reduce the current tariff."
Therefore, it stresses, "both administrations and producers believe that the EU should be aware of the need to have effective banana market management mechanisms in place; otherwise, it will have to take responsibility for the disappearance of tens of thousands of jobs in Europe."
"Also, regarding the recognition of organic and ecological products in the regulations, Ecuador and Colombia reiterated their request to the European Union to continue discussing a possible bilateral agreement on mutual recognition. Such an agreement would lead to even more unfair competition from the bananas from third countries, as their organic producers are allowed to use substances that are currently banned even for conventional banana crops in Europe."
Regarding the "sanitary and phytosanitary measures, the Andean countries also expressed their concern about the possible effects on their export products of the European regulations on maximum residue limits, new foods and endocrine disruptors." In this regard, they say that "at the moment, the European banana production meets the highest standards in the world, as opposed to the banana production from third countries, which is exported freely to the EU without having to meet the same environmental and safety criteria."
According to the president of the APEB, Laurent de Meillac, of UGPBAN, "it is impossible to understand how the General Directorate of Trade can acknowledge in its statements that the Andean countries are important suppliers of high quality agricultural products, and that the traded volume is expected to grow. We feel totally unprotected against such statements, which in our case, are far removed from reality."
In this regard, the Canary Councilor of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Water, Narvay Quintero, said that "we are surprised and have denounced the willingness of the European Union to study the proposal for further tariff liberalization in favor of third countries. We are sure that this would allow the production from these countries to compete with Canary bananas in unfair conditions. Our growers are already suffering with the current conditions, which put them in a position of disadvantage while failing to comply with the principle of reciprocity."
The vice-president of the APEB and president of Asprocan, Domingo Martín Ortega, has said that "the failure to meet the social and environmental commitments of the free trade agreements between the European Union and third countries should have consequences. They certainly shouldn't be rewarded with measures that would objectively accelerate the process that is damaging the European sector."
For the director of GESBA, Jorge Dias, "allowing the entry of products into the European market that do not adhere to the values and criteria that Europe defends for its European production is incoherent with the values it promotes."