Rebecca Evans, Deputy Minister for Farming and Food
I attended the EU Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Brussels on Monday (26 January) 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 Minister George Eustice MP and Richard Lochhead MSP, Scottish Government Minister for Rural Affairs, Food and Environment, were present.
The main topic for discussion for Farming Ministers from around Europe was the impact of the Russian ban on imports of agricultural produce from the EU. Although there is no direct trade of agricultural produce between Welsh producers or processors and Russia, there has been significant trade of dairy produce – especially cheese and butter – between other EU Member States and Russia. The Russian ban has added to the challenges faced by dairy producers in international markets, and has contributed to falling milk prices. I was pleased that during Council I secured a specific mention of the fragility of some of our Welsh dairy farms. I will continue to stand up for our important dairy sector.
I emphasised to colleagues the importance of helping Welsh farmers take advantage of export opportunities and of the continuing need for the EU to closely monitor the impact of the fall in milk prices on farmers. We know that this is a problem affecting farmers in many countries across the EU. That is why it was crucial that we pressed Commissioner Hogan and his services to monitor the situation closely and to consider what can be done at a European level to support farmers and adopt a united EU approach to addressing the implications of the Russian ban.
I also took the opportunity to impress upon Ministerial colleagues the importance of domestic action to support our dairy industry. As promised in the Assembly Chamber, I raised with the Defra Minister the importance of ensuring that the Groceries Code Adjudicator is equipped with the tools she needs to deliver for our dairy farmers. I will continue to pursue this issue.
With milk production continuing to outperform last year's levels, there will be a need to develop new markets for cheese and butter stocks or to divert milk supplies into other dairy products. The Commission were keen to point out, as I have, that the long term international prospects for dairy farming are positive. My review of the dairy sector, which is being led by Andy Richardson of the Dairy Taskforce for Wales, is therefore timely. I expect it to conclude by the end of February. It is part of this Government’s commitment to review progress on the Plan for Milk and operation of the Voluntary Code in Wales.
The EU plays a very important role in Welsh rural life, including through the Common Agricultural Policy and the opportunities offered by the Structural Funds.
I will continue to work closely with my Ministerial counterparts from across the UK and the EU to defend and promote the interests of Welsh farmers and food producers.