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Opinion
30/10/2017

Spain, an increasingly strong fruit and vegetable market, increasingly dependent on foreign markets

Jose María Pozancos. Director of the Spanish Federation of Associations of Producers and Exporters of Fruits, Vegetables, Flowers and Live Plants (FEPEX)

The fresh fruit and vegetable sector's participation in Spanish agriculture has been reinforced in the last few years. Its participation in agricultural production already exceeds 60%, and the foreign market is the primary destination for our products, which stand out for their diversity, lengthy production periods and implantation in various production areas, which is one of the Spanish fruit and vegetable industry's main strengths.

Exports increased by 5% in value and 2% in volume through July 2017 in year-on-year terms, for a total of 7.7 million tons and 8.249 billion euros, respectively. The positive performance has continued over the last few years, although overall data hides challenging situations faced by certain products which are an important part of Spain's fruit and vegetable industry in economic and social terms.

The sector's importance for society is visible in the increase in direct jobs in recent years, adding an estimated 280,000 workers to the total number of members in Social Security's Special Farming System of Self-Employed Workers, which represents for more than half of Spain's farmer, estimated to be around 409,113, according to the Ministry of Employment and Social Security. Another 150,000 workers specializing in point-of-origin handling and similar activities should be added to the direct jobs created by the fruit and vegetable industry; as a result, the sector accounts for more than 50% of Spanish agricultural employment.

In this context, and in view of the economic and social data, I believe there are significant challenges in terms of production, trade and regulations which I believe must be addressed immediately.

With regard to production, farms must accelerate innovation to be able to compete with our main rivals, such as the Netherlands in the north and Morocco in the south. "Core" products for the Spanish fruit and vegetable industry are in considerable jeopardy due to this situation. To that end, I believe we must adopt urgent measures to improve farms, in line with the policy adopted by the main EU producing countries. It's also important to respond to the scarcity and high cost of water in the main producing zones. Another priority is to improve the availability of phytosanitary products, which are vital for competitiveness since the principle of reciprocity in environmental and phytosanitary issues has not been included in commercial agreements signed by the European Union.

As for trade, exports outside the EU account for a very small percentage, due in part to the logistical difficulties inherent in most non-EU destinations, which must be corrected, and also to the protectionist measures implemented by many countries. The European Commission must get involved more in opening up new markets, demanding reciprocity; however, given that 94% of our exports head to other EU countries, I believe it's vital to improve the EU market's competitiveness, where the nationalization of markets is becoming widespread and the single market is being diminished, where a preference for EU markets has practically disappeared and Spanish production competes directly with that coming from non-EU countries.

As for regulations and organizational matters, the revision of the CAP, which begins this year, is especially important, and I believe there are two main aspects: improving the specific regime for fruits and vegetables, and creating a post-2020 CAP that respects the principles of equality, convergence and effective competition, which contribute more actively to economic growth and employment. In this regard, the mini-reform of the CAP, within the framework of Omnibus Regulation negotiations, which should enter into force in early 2018, enables the appropriate institutions to improve crisis management measures to respond more effectively to constant and unexpected market crises arising due to geopolitical, health and climate reasons. These measures should include the creation of mutual funds in producer organizations and their associations to offset poor campaigns through operational programs, to include actions to diversify and strengthen markets in non-EU countries, including export credit insurance, and to increase EU aid for producer organization associations to apply these measures.

I will conclude by mentioning Fruit Attraction. The fair, held its ninth edition this year and is organized by IFEMA and FEPEX, has become a major business platform for the sector's entire value chain. In my opinion, the three elements which form the basis of the event's good performance are as follows: opportunity, investment and enthusiasm, which are also the foundation for facing the aforementioned future challenges.

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