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The European Commission has approved exceptional measures to support the agri-food sector in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. The measures proposed are in support of the most affected agricultural and food sectors and aim at addressing disturbances already observed and future risks. The new EC package includes support measures for private storage in the milk and meat sector.
Dairy products eligible for private storage are skimmed milk powder, butter and cheese. The maximum storage amount of cheese allowed in Bulgaria is 889 tonnes, which is 22% more than the quota in 2016. The storage period is between 90 and 180 days. Our country has experience and practice in implementing such an exceptional aid scheme, as In 2016, we absorbed 36% of predetermined maximum amount of stored cheeses. It is important to emphasize that the support amount includes both fixed storage costs of EUR 15.57 per tonne of production and EUR 0.40 per tonne per day for the duration of the contracts.
For the meat (beef, sheep and goat meat) products. This scheme will allow the temporary withdrawal of products from the market for a minimum of 2 to 3 months, and a maximum period of 5 to 6 months.
In the meat sector, private storage aid may be granted for bovine meat (animals must be over 8 months old) and for sheep and goat meat for a period of 90 to 150 days. One may apply for private storage of at least 15 tonnes of meat with an application. Private storage will not be able to meet the needs of the dairy and meat sector in our country, characterizing with small-scale farms, but at EU level the measure will lead to a decrease of available supply on the market and rebalance the market on the long-term. The measure is envisaged to allow collectively plan milk production or withdraw products from the market. Storage by private operators will also be allowed. Such agreements and decisions would only be valid for a period of maximum six months. Given the specificity of the sector in our country, which is reflected in the low degree of organization and intermediary role of producers’ organizations, we do not expect this measure raise interest in our country.
In the wine sector, the emergency package envisages a twelve-month extension of deadlines for planting and replanting authorizations, expiring in 2020. Flexibility is also foreseen with regard to measures under national wine support programs by allowing beneficiaries to submit changes in the ongoing contracted activities within the originally approved amount of eligible aid. Alcohol resulting from distillation shall be used exclusively for industrial or energy purposes, with a special priority for the production of alcohol-based disinfectants. Partial aid is also provided for the wine storage during crises. For both measures (distillation and storage), the amount of aid is fixed by the Member State at a maximum of EUR 0.8 /% vol / hl. It is envisaged that the aid under the measure "Restructuring and conversion of vineyards" to be increased to 80% of the costs incurred (currently 75%). Under the Investment measure, the aid may be increased from 50 to 60%. Bulgaria continues to insist on the use of unspent funds for targeted assistance. The possibility of transferring unspent funds to the next financial year would also be an appropriate solution.
In the fruit and vegetable sector, costs for producers’ organizations (POs) may be covered for activities, planned but not carried out by 31 December 2020, if carried out by 1 October 2021. By way of derogation, the members of the PO may be allowed to sell up to 40% of the production alone, as opposed to the regular requirement of up to 25%. In 2020, the maximum percentage of voting rights and shares or capital may exceed 50% of the total voting rights and 50% of the POs shares or capital. In addition, the PO may be allowed to terminate its operational programs in whole or in part by 2020. Payment of OP aid shall not be suspended in the event of non-compliance with the recognition criteria. There are 19 POs for fruits and vegetables in Bulgaria with a total of 155 members. Only 3 of POs with a total of 18 members implement operational programs.
In the beekeeping sector, Member States envisage to modify their apiculture programs with measures planned for the 2020 beekeeping year to be implemented after 31 July 2020, but not later than 15 September 2020. These measures will be considered as completed for the 2020 beekeeping year. The amendments are subject to approval by the Commission before their implementation. Nearly 1776 applications for support have been received under the National Beekeeping Program in Bulgaria at a total amount of BGN 6 499 397.32 of the requested financial assistance in 2020.
Extending the deadline for program’s activities will enable beekeepers to implement the planned ones of the approved projects and fully utilize the 2020 budget.
The measures shall be adopted by the Commission by the end of April. Bulgaria will then present these opportunities to support Bulgarian farmers.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Forestry continues to insist before the European Commission on the position expressed during the Council of Ministers of Agriculture on 25 March to enable Member States the unspent funds to be transferred to a new emergency measure COVID-19.