November will be a key month for the future of the banana as it will be for the whole Canary Islands primary sector. The employment of more than 40,000 families and the purchasing power of the entire Canary Islands will be affected by the final decision adopted by the Trilogue (meetings between the European Parliament, the European Commission and the Council) on the cut -or not- of the file POSEI (Community Program to Support Agricultural Productions in the Outermost Regions).
Today we do not know the definitive date of these meetings, which are presented as vital for the survival of one of the economic ‘engines’ of the Canary Islands and in the specific case of bananas, the maintenance of one of the fruits with the highest production in our country (each year, more than 400 million kilos of bananas are sold in Spain).
As the weeks go by, the feeling of uncertainty and concern increases among producers: deadlines and opportunities for POSEI maintenance are reduced. There is a huge fear that this new “chess game” – which will be played by the three countries with RUP territories (Spain, France and Portugal) and the EU – will end with a “checkmate” for agriculture in all these regions and with it also for the banana.
The Minister of Agriculture, Luis Planas, called us – the banana producers of the Canary Islands (ASPROCAN) – to a videoconference, last Tuesday, in which he expressly committed to avoid the cut that Brussels projects -3.9% in funds allocated to the Outermost Regions (ORs)– and we eagerly wait for his conviction to finally become tangible facts. The only reasonable solution: the withdrawal of the proposal to reduce the POSEI funds from the European Commission, and therefore maintaining it.
We do not doubt the commitment of the minister, but it must be concretized in reality. And, to achieve this goal, there is only one way: that the Spanish Government continue to act, with maximum intensity in Brussels and, in parallel, weaving the necessary joint actions with the other two affected European countries (France and Portugal) with RUP territories.
In the scenario of a pandemic in which we live, which is severely punishing tourism in the Canary Islands -the most important economic activity in the Archipelago-, a reduction in the POSEI may provoke a new attack on the water line of the insular economic system. The cut proposed by Brussels would be the last straw for a program to support food production in remote regions of the continent, precisely now that this activity has recovered its strategic importance.
The economic effort we are talking about to save a strategic activity is not that significant, far from it, within global European budgets. The funds for the ORs represent only 0.01% of total agricultural funds of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), an irrelevant figure (and which has not increased since 2007) within the European budgets compared to the need and urgency with which the ORs require these funds. In fact, the truth is that the maintenance of the POSEI already means a loss of at least 20% of resources for agricultural producers in the Canary Islands from 2007 to 2027. We cannot accept an additional decrease to this, which is a circumstance of serious risk.
Article 349 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU recognizes the specific needs of the Outermost Regions, including the Canary Islands. And therefore, we understand that the European Commission cannot transfer responsibility to national governments which until now has the Union itself. Above all, when in cases like bananas, we are being seriously harmed by a liberalizing policy that is not taking into account the application of the same social, environmental and safety standards between products of different origins that compete in the same market. Banana import tariffs have been reduced more than 50% from third countries to the EU without anything being done about applying the same European production and marketing standards that we do in the Canary Islands.
With all this, the banana producers continue to insist to the Government of Spain of the urgency of put maximum pressure on the EU institutions -and especially the German presidency- and seek alliances with France and Portugal in order to definitively protect the ORs. Action is the only tool we have to influence the decision of the Trilogue for the month of November. The chess game that is in play cannot end with a ‘checkmate’ for the sector.
Domingo Martín Ortega, President of the Association of Organizations of Banana Producers of the Canary Islands (ASPROCAN)