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ASF poses “serious risk” to European pigmeat market, Hogan warns

EU farming chief updated member states on the latest developments in key agricultural markets

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Any further spread of African Swine Fever (ASF) within the EU could have a “severe impact” on domestic pigmeat producers, EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan has warned.

The EU’s farming chief updated national Agriculture Ministers on the latest developments in the EU’s main agricultural markets at the AGRIFISH Council meeting in Luxembourg on October 14.

“Thankfully, as the general situation has improved, this has become a less frequent point on the agenda of this Council,” the Irishman started off his presentation.

On pigmeat, Hogan said the EU market has been “performing strongly” as prices rose since the beginning of the year and are currently at their highest level since September 2013, with €184/100 kg.

This was helped by higher demand from Asian countries, and especially China, which have been hit by outbreaks of African Swine Fever (ASF), he explained.

The deadly pig disease has been spreading rapidly across Asia since first reaching China in August last year and has now reached 10 countries on the continent (Cambodia, East Timor, Laos, Mongolia, Myanmar, North Korea, the Philippines, South Korea and Vietnam) and more than 50 nations worldwide.

However, Hogan also warned EU Agriculture Ministers about the grave consequences of the pig disease for European farmers.

“ASF poses a serious risk to the European pigmeat market, as any further spread of the disease within the EU could have a severe impact on pigmeat producers,” he stated. “That is why it is important that member states keep on controlling the spread of the disease by all means.”

Ten EU member states have so far reported outbreaks of the disease, namely Belgium, Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Italy, Poland, Romania and – most recently – Slovakia.

Two months ago, a European Commission spokesperson already warned that the EU faces an “extreme and urgent challenge” in tackling the continued spread of ASF, urging action against the “catastrophic animal disease”.

EU officials believe a vaccine will not be available for twenty years from now, meaning it could take up to three decades to completely eradicate the infectious disease from the continent.

Situation in other sectors

At the Council meeting, Hogan also provided an update on the situation in the other key EU agricultural markets.

Most notably, he said the difficulties experienced in the olive sector “tops the Commission’s list of current concerns” and announced that the Commission will provide private storage aid to struggling olive and olive oil producers.

The EU beef market is also “under pressure” and is performing below 2018 levels, Hogan added, as he reassured member states that the Commission is “ready to respond” to address any destabilisation, especially arising from Brexit.

Meanwhile, the poultry sector remains in a “balanced” situation, as EU production rose by 1.8% year-over-year and broiler prices stayed well-above the latest five-year average.

The milk market also remains “positively balanced”, with prices having stayed “unusually flat” between June and September at around 33.5 cents/kg, which was 4% above the latest five-year average.

For cereals and oilseeds, the Commission’s latest production forecast also seems positive at 312 million tonnes, which would be 7.6% higher than last year’s drought-hit crop.

Soft wheat and barley output recovered the most, while maize fell slightly and rapeseed remains “rather disappointing”.

The wine market is also expected to be “in a good shape” as the bloc’s production is set to reach a “normal level” of 161 million hectolitres of grape must in 2019, even though this would be 14% lower than for previous bumper harvests.

“Uncertainties exist however about the relations with main trading partners, US, UK, Russia and China”, Hogan outlined, as he argued that promotion activities, investments and innovation will be needed if current market shares are to be maintained.

For fruits and vegetables, the current season shows some “better prospects” in the main producing member states after a difficult situation for citrus fruit, apples and pears last year, he added. The low harvests for these products in these countries have resulted in a significant price recovery.

On the other hand, prices for sugar remain low with an EU average €320 per tonne and this is not expected to improve in the immediate future, as the sector continues its transition towards a more market-oriented environment.

In general, the future Trade Commissioner highlighted Brexit and the upcoming US Airbus tariffs as the “biggest threats” to the EU’s agricultural sector.

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