Agriculture and fisheries

 
Agriculture

The main components of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) are direct payments to support farmers' incomes, the common organisation of the markets for agricultural products and the development of the EU's rural areas.

 
Objectives for Belgium

One of the features of Belgian agriculture is the peri-urban nature of its agricultural areas. In our densely populated country, the use of agricultural land is subject to competition from housing, industrial areas and road infrastructure, even in the countryside. The result is upward pressure on land prices, which is difficult to sustain, especially for young farmers who are setting up and have to make major investments in their farms. In addition, compared to other sectors, the income from agricultural activity is lower and working conditions (number of hours worked, arduousness of tasks, etc.) are harder, which can be a serious disincentive to the profession. This is why, in Belgium, CAP financial support is particularly aimed at investments in agricultural holdings and the setting up of young farmers.

The last decade has seen the "greening" of agriculture. The CAP has introduced an obligation for farmers to use practices that are environmentally friendly and combat climate change. Farmers must provide environmental services in order to be fully eligible for CAP financial support. For example, it is mandatory to have crop diversification and an area of ecological interest on each farm or group of farms. In Belgium, alternatives are planned, such as plant cover, extensive grassland, crops with a positive contribution to eco-efficiency, agroforestry, mechanical weeding and direct seeding.

The common organisation of agricultural markets is another vital component of the CAP, reflecting the importance of a competitive and efficient food production chain. Belgium advocates strengthening the bargaining power of farmers in the food production chain through the creation of producer organisations and inter-branch organisations in all sectors of agriculture. Producers must have real bargaining power within the agri-food sector. Belgium is clearly in favour of these organisations being able to collectively negotiate the prices and quantities of their members' products. At the end of 2018, agreement was reached in the European Union on a directive to combat unfair commercial practices, one of the main causes of imbalance in the food chain. Its scope will protect 100% of farmers and 97% of agricultural businesses. Over time, the CAP has established a "safety net", a set of mechanisms to deal with market disruptions and the increasing volatility of farmers' incomes caused by significant price fluctuations of prices in internal and external markets. In this context, Belgium insists on the need for supply and risk management tools, which enable crisis and market regulation measures to be activated quickly and flexibly.

On another front, the CAP has established a "School fruit, vegetables, milk and milk products" programme, through which the European Union co-finances the purchase and free distribution of fresh fruit, vegetables and milk products to school children. For Belgium, it is a tool for informing and educating children about the importance of agricultural products, farming and healthy eating habits. The "School fruit, vegetables, milk and milk products" programme has been successfully implemented in Belgium. The budget made available to Belgium by the European Union amounts to approximately €1,800,000 per school year, and 420,000 Belgian schoolchildren (37%) can benefit.

The shape of the CAP after 2020 is currently being prepared. The new management model for the CAP will be simpler and will give more responsibility to the Member States, who will draw up their own strategic plans. Belgium advocates a CAP that makes a greater contribution to the EU's environmental and climate objectives. The CAP will also have to integrate economic aspects, such as crisis management instruments and improving the position of farmers in the food production chain, as well as social aspects such as replacing generations of farmers and strengthening the attractiveness of the rural environment.

The "Green Deal" announced in December 2019 by the European Commission also includes a "Farm to Fork" strategy. This strategy will set out the measures needed to create more efficient systems that are adapted to climate change and provide healthy food, while ensuring a decent standard of living for EU farmers and fishermen. Lastly, the recent COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the key role of agriculture. This health crisis requires unprecedented measures.

Solidarity and an integrated policy within the EU are more essential than ever for guaranteeing all stages of the food chain.

 
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Fisheries

The Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) aims to preserve marine biological resources: fish, crustaceans and shellfish, and to manage the European Union's fishing fleet. The CFP also aims to ensure the long-term environmental sustainability of marine fisheries and aquaculture activities and the positive economic and social benefits for fishermen and coastal communities. Nevertheless, some fish stocks are overexploited; fishing activities then threaten both fish populations and the productivity of fishing itself. This is why the CFP imposes fishing limits that maintain stocks in the long term. It also establishes areas where fishing is prohibited in order to protect juveniles or spawners, standards for fishing gear and minimum sizes for caught fish. It is the Council of the European Union that sets fishing opportunities and total allowable catches (TACs), depending on the state and productivity of fish stocks and on the basis of scientific advice. The TACs are then divided into quotas among the EU Member States.

 
Objectives for Belgium

In Belgium, under the 1994 cooperation agreement between the Federal Authorities, the Communities and the Regions, maritime fishing is the exclusive competence of the Flemish Region. In the Walloon Region and the Brussels-Capital Region, only recreational fishing and freshwater fish farming, mainly for trout, are practised.

The Belgian fishing fleet has been significantly reduced in recent years in order to adapt its capacity (engine power and tonnage) to fishing opportunities and improve the profitability of the sector. Belgium has therefore made its contribution to reducing the overcapacity of the European fleet. The Belgian fleet consists of fewer than 80 vessels, most of which use trawling nets adapted to flatfish fishing (sole, plaice, etc.). In terms of market value, sole accounts for 50% of the total value of landings by the Belgian fleet. Belgium also fishes for cod and approximately 15% for crustaceans and shellfish, mainly shrimps and scallops.

Belgium's fishing areas are mainly located in the North Sea, the English Channel, the Irish Sea, the Celtic Sea and, to a lesser extent, the Bay of Biscay. Having said that, it is easy to understand why Brexit poses a serious threat to Belgium's fishing activities. If the United Kingdom demands exclusive fishing in its territorial waters, Belgium will be denied access to the majority of its current fishing areas. Total landings are approximately 20,000 tonnes per year. Landings in Belgian ports take place in Zeebrugge (55%) and Ostend (25%). The rest is mainly landed in the Netherlands (15%).

The 2014 reform of the CFP introduced the setting of maximum sustainable yield (MSY) catch rates, to be progressively achieved for all fish species between 2015 and 2020. Too much fishing is not sustainable; too little fishing is not profitable. The MSY is the best objective for fishing that is both sustainable and profitable.

Another achievement of the CFP reform is the progressive ban on the practice of discarding, i.e. throwing unwanted fish back into the sea, combined with an obligation to land the fish caught. Indeed, about 25% of the fish caught are discarded at sea, with a very low survival rate after discarding. These discards may consist of fish that are too small, species whose fishing is prohibited or species subject to catch limits. To reduce this waste, all catches had to be gradually landed between 2015 and 2019, except for species whose fishing is banned and those with a high survival rate after discarding. In 2019, the obligation to land was generalised. Noting that a certain level of discard is unavoidable, Belgium advocates the development of more selective fishing gear and fishing techniques that limit discards as much as possible.

It should also be noted that in order to help young ship-owners and aquaculture producers and to promote alternative, environmentally-friendly fishing techniques, Belgium receives part of the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, which has a total of 6.4 billion euros for the period 2014-2020.

At the international level, Belgium supports the European Union in its commitment to combating illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing activities (IUU fishing). IUU fishing is a major threat to the conservation and sustainable use of living marine resources in the world's oceans and seas, with adverse socio-economic consequences for fishermen who play by the rules. IUU fishing is estimated to account for 15% of global fishing. The European Union publishes a blacklist of uncooperative vessels and countries and sanctions offending states by prohibiting access to the EU market for their fishing products.

 
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