Unfair Trading Practices report ‘lacks the ambition required by farmers’ – Matt Carthy MEP
Sinn Féin MEP Matt Carthy this week voted against an Agriculture & Rural Development (AGRI) Committee report on Unfair Trading Practises claiming that it lacked the necessary ambition to address the imbalances that lead to farmers receiving poor margins for their product. Carthy described the report, which was voted in committee on Monday evening as “substandard” and lamented the fact that MEPs failed to back his amendments to prevent below cost selling and buying by large retailers and processers.
Carthy commented: “It is regrettable, considering we have been waiting for Unfair Trading Practice legislation for several years, that the AGRI committee has adopted a report that lacks the ambition required by farmers to address the imbalances that lead to poor margins for primary producers. The truth is that many farmers will see no benefit resulting from the report now going to full plenary.
“It appears that some MEPs have resigned themselves to the notion that anything is better than nothing when it comes to getting a directive in place. I am particularly disappointed that my fellow Irish MEPs all voted to adopt such an unambitious and substandard proposal.
“As someone who has been calling for legislation that addresses the all-powerful position of retailers and processors in the market chain for a number of years I do not share this defeatist attitude. This directive was a real opportunity to redress the gross power imbalance farmer’s face when dealing with supermarkets in particular. Many farmers are economically dependent on one or two buyers and therefore often exploited by large corporations.
“The main tactic of these corporations is to transfer the market risks they face to the farmer such as when a farmer is forced to cover the cost of spoiled or unsold produce. Specific prohibitions of such practices are the only counterbalance that will work.
“My priority in negotiations on this file included the requirement for a ban on below-cost buying by retailers to outlaw the practice of supermarkets offering a farmer a price lower than the cost of production their product. This would be the single biggest step that would rebalance the negotiation position of farmers and their representatives.
“I also proposed a ban on ‘Loss leading’, the practice by supermarkets of selling products at a loss to undercut the competition. This practice that not only damages customer perceptions of fair price for food products but also small independent retailer’s ability to survive. It is baffling that Irish MEPs would consider legislation that fails to address these key issues as adequate for the farmers they represent.
“This process began with a weak legislative proposal from Phil Hogan. While the report adopted by AGRI is an improvement it remains a long way from anything that would justify the time we have been waiting for rules governing Unfair Trading Practices. One thing is for sure; retail sector bosses will lose no sleep at the prospect of this legislation.
“The very fact that the report does not require national governments to provide free mediation services highlights the lack of ambition in this position. It is clear that this will remain unfinished business as the fundamental imbalances in the market will stay firmly in place.
“In today’s climate of further market concentration and the flooding of the EU market due to dangerous trade deals, farmers need a lifeline or we may see the further abandonment of the family farm model and the rural communities that depend on it. At both EU and national level, farmers need to see the adoption of comprehensive legislation that provides them with protection for massive forces in the retail and processing sectors – this legislation is not it.
“Therefore I, and my Sinn Féin colleagues, will continue to press for improved measures, including the reintroduction in Ireland of the groceries order for agricultural products to ban below-cost selling, that will actually end Unfair Trading Practices across the board”.