Rebecca Evans, Deputy Minister for Farming and Food
I attended the European Union (EU) Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Luxembourg on Monday 20th April as part of the UK Ministerial Delegation. I took part in the usual pre-Council briefing meetings with colleagues where I set out the issues important to Wales. On this occasion, Defra Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Natural Environment and Science Lord de Mauley, and Richard Lochhead MSP, Scottish Government Minister for Rural Affairs, Food and Environment, were present.
The agenda for discussion by Farming Ministers at Council included a proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and the Council establishing a multiannual plan for the stocks of cod, herring and sprat in the Baltic Sea and the fisheries exploiting those stocks. Although we have no direct interest in these fisheries, it is nonetheless an important matter because it is likely that this will become the first approved multiannual plan to manage fishing since the new Common Fisheries Policy came into force in 2014, and may therefore set the direction for future plans.
Ministers were briefed by the Commission on the state of play of two reports dealing with the mandatory indication of the country of origin or place of provenance of products including milk and dairy, and certain types of meat. The Welsh Government's position remains that we are broadly supportive of the principles, but that it must be implemented in such a way that is straightforward to implement and not overly burdensome to our food sector businesses.
The Council adopted conclusions on the position to be taken by the EU and its Member States at the 11th session of the United a Nations Forum on Forests, which will take place in New York on 4th -15th May. These conclusions stress the importance of the sustainable management of forests and their multi-functionality to address major challenges such as climate change, and align well with the Welsh Government's woodland strategy, 'Woodlands for Wales.'
The Commission presented to Ministers a model guarantee instrument for agriculture prepared in cooperation with the European Investment Bank (EIB). The instrument aims to facilitate access to credit for farmers and rural businesses. I informed my Ministerial colleagues that we already have examples of financial instruments being used to good effect in Wales, and that this new proposal could particularly be used to benefit young farmers and tenant farmers.
During my visit, I also had a productive meeting with Mihail Dumitru, EC Deputy Director General, Agriculture and Rural Development (DG AGRI). We explored the potential for utilising the financial leverage provided by the EC-EIB through the use of financial instruments in our Rural Development Programme (RDP). Welsh stakeholders have responded positively to proposals to combine financial instruments with traditional grants, and DG AGRI and the EIB have agreed to provide us with technical support and financial advice.
The bulk of my meeting with the Deputy Director General related to the progress of Wales' Rural Development Programme. I am pleased to report that formal negotiations have now concluded and our RDP is currently with the Commission's legal services. The Deputy Director General was complimentary about our RDP, and the positive way in which the Welsh Government has worked with the Commission throughout the approval process. He confirmed at the meeting that we could expect informal approval very shortly (which has now been communicated to us), and formal adoption of the Programme in the near future.
On Tuesday 21 April I attended Seafood Global EXPO in Brussels. It is the largest seafood trade event in the world, attracting more than 25,800 buyers and suppliers from more than 150 countries. The Welsh Government supported eight Welsh companies to attend as part of the Food and Drink Wales delegation. The Welsh Government has an ambitious plan to grow the food and drink sector by 30% by 2020 to the value of £7 billion. Attendance at trade events such as Seafood Global EXPO plays an important part in achieving that target, and I recently announced a package of support to the value of £2.5 million to help Welsh food and drink businesses attend UK and overseas events in the coming years.
I was delighted to host a reception on our Food and Drink Wales stand where we were able to showcase our Welsh produce to guests including the British Ambassador to Belgium, Alison Rose, global buyers and the media.
During my visit to Brussels I also met with Derek Vaughan MEP where we discussed aspects of the Common Agricultural Policy and support for the dairy industry. We also discussed the Welsh Government's efforts to increase exports of PGI Welsh Lamb to Norway and the role that the European Parliament can play in ensuring that the necessary quotas are put in place to enable that.