Ricardo Migueláñez, Editor of Qcom.es and Wiki Spanish Food
Wiki Spanish Food- Time marches on but it feels like we're not advancing, do you agree? During your previous tenure, you addressed issues such as food security and CAP negotiations, among others. Now, almost 10 years later, you're dealing with the same issues.
Miguel Arias Cañete- Well, they're not exactly the same issues. If that were the case, it would be easier... It's true that, once again, we are trying to tackle CAP reform. But it's a different reform. It continues to support agriculture and livestock breeding throughout the EU, as it had before. However, the focus now is adapt production to signals from the market, which accounts for the most substantial part of farm income, and to enhance the visibility of the contribution by agriculture and livestock breeding to preserving and improving the environment, providing economic compensation for such efforts. As for food security, I wish the problems of ten years ago had been the same as ones we have today. Back then they were much more serious.
W.S.F.- How do you find the sector now, after all these years? Our indicators suggest that it is in a delicate situation despite its inherent resilience, attributable to farmworkers and growth in exports.
M.A.C.- Overall, from production to industry, I would say that the industry is in good health. As proof, we see that despite the current economic crisis, agricultural income improved in 2012. Exports—which totaled almost 36 billion euros in 2012, outstripping the automotive industry—continue to rise (up 9% year-on-year in 2012) and to contribute, with more than 6 billion euros, to improving Spain's balance of trade. However, if we take a closer look at the sector, we find serious weaknesses that must be addressed if Spain is to continue to enjoy the healthy food that we are known for and which attracts so many visitors.
W.S.F.- Is that why you are fully committed to implementing a Law for Better Functioning of the Food Supply Chain that works, despite opposition from your colleagues at the Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness and the National Competition Commission? In your opinion, what will the draft regulation approved by the Spanish Cabinet achieve?
M.A.C.- It's true that I am working very hard on this issue, as is everyone else involved. However, to say that my colleagues are opposed is inaccurate. Good governance requires adopting resolutions and regulations while reconciling interests that are legitimate but different. In short, contrasting viewpoints must be considered if we want regulations to be viable and to achieve the objectives that they pursue. That's the case with the law you mentioned, which is currently before Parliament. In terms of its contribution, it will increase transparency and security in commercial relations and establish regulations to correct actions that are detrimental to any of the parties that sign a contract.
W.S.F.- That regulation and the future law on cooperative integration represent an important, unprecedented structural change in the agri-food industry. How will its approval and implementation affect the sector?
M.A.C.- As you said, it is a significant change which fully addresses an issue that has caused concern for a long time and which must be dealt with so as to find a solution. It's a change in the way the parts of a whole, in this case the food chain, relate to each other—parts which are interdependent and which must do business on equal footing. Therein lies our commitment to better aligning the economic dimensions of those involved in the production, industrialization and distribution of food. Our ultimate goal is to ensure profitability for all parties involved in the supply process that is proportional to their contribution. Nothing more, nothing less.
W.S.F.- As regards specific troubled sectors, such as milk or oil, what's going on with the agreement signed by farmers, industry and distributors in the dairy sector which is continuously criticized by the various parties? Do you believe that a similar agreement could be arranged for the oil sector or for other products with equal conditions in the current situation?
M.A.C.- That's not the way I see it. What's happening is that fulfillment of the commitments set out in those agreements is being monitored more assiduously and breaches, if any, are being highlighted. But the most important issue, in the case of the dairy industry, is the integration process under way among producer organizations to combine capabilities and better manage production by participating livestock farmers. According to our data, very soon we may have a group of producer organizations capable of managing close to 1 million tons of milk, i.e. 15% of domestic production. As for oil, we are drafting a parallel agreement with very similar content to the one signed by the dairy industry.
W.S.F.- With regard to the Iberian product sector, when is the new regulation expected and what is its objective?
M.A.C.- After much debate—which was necessary so as to cater to all interests involved—we already have a regulation which should correct the deterioration resulting from unsatisfactory application of the previous one. We are looking for clarity for all parties, and especially for consumers, for a product that is a distinguishing feature of Spanish gastronomy. As for its entry into force, in view of the processing period, including at European Union level, we expect it to be operational in a few months.
W.S.F.- Shifting away from Spain, I'd like to discuss Marca España. The Ministry is working with the industry, through the internationalization group, to develop a program that adds value to Spanish agri-food exports. What is the current status of this project?
M.A.C. It is at a very advanced stage and we are quite optimistic that it will bear fruit. We will have a specific Working Group to strengthen agri-food exports, whose situation I discussed earlier. We have the capacity to enhance commercial development, and we must use all the means at our disposal to increase the flow of Spanish products to other countries, in markets where we already have a presence, and especially in those where we don't. An Action Plan is currently being drafted which, among other things, will coordinate all of the central government's competencies in this area.
W.S.F.- As regards R&D and innovation, on several occasions I have heard you speak about the program being implemented by MAGRAMA as a tool for obtaining EU funding so that companies can advance in innovation in the coming years. Where does this project stand today?
M.A.C.- R&D and innovation is fundamental for successfully ensuring the sustainability of the Spanish agri-food sector and the presence of its products both in Spain and in other countries. Herein lies the question of whether we are capable of competing with other national agri-food systems in a global market that is increasingly inclusive. Accordingly, we compiled information from regional governments and the organizations and institutions involved in these processes, and we drafted a set of priorities that have been included in the Spanish Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy 2013-2020 and in the State Plan for Scientific and Technical Research 2013-2016, approved on February 1st. This will give us access, under the best possible terms, to the budget for the New EU Framework Programme, Horizon 2020.
W.S.F.- With regard to the CAP negotiations we discussed earlier, at this time they are completely tied to the Multiannual Financial Framework recently approved by the EU. How does your team view these issues right now, and what is their outlook for negotiations with a view to informing the sectors involved?
M.A.C.- Truth be told, discussion of the Multiannual Financial Framework had us seriously concerned. The reform budget depended on the framework, and I have to say that the result has been satisfactory, especially in the current situation. Few sectors have guaranteed income support over the next seven years, and especially in the amounts obtained for agriculture in Europe, and in Spain in particular. With these conditions, we can now focus on figuring out how CAP application criteria adapts to our needs. Spain is the second agricultural power in the EU as a result of its diverse production. This differs from the relatively homogeneous agriculture in northern Europe. In view of this, support schemes must help ensure that our diversity—which is our quality seal, our designation of origin—is never lost. We're working to make it happen.