Tuesday, February 27

“I am concerned about those who believe that the universal solution to problems is to lower taxes”

The crisis in the agricultural, livestock and fishing sector has become one of the hot potatoes that the Minister of Agriculture, Luis Planas (Valencia, 1952), has had to deal with this week. Some “difficulties” in energy and supply that they already had and that have been aggravated by the transporters’ strike these days. To top it off, today various rural groups are demonstrating in Madrid demanding quick solutions to the situation they have been experiencing for months.

-Do you understand the discomfort that they are going to express this Sunday in their concentration in Madrid?

-I understand that discomfort that has been generated in recent weeks and that has led to this demonstration, although the date had already been set since the fall. It is not an appointment that is motivated by any topical element, but by a vision of various issues, precisely in relation to which the Government and this ministry work intensely and with commitment. I believe that many changes and demands are taking place in our primary sector and our agri-food industry. And we have faced these challenges with the reform of the Food Chain Law, even prohibiting the sale at a loss. In addition, with the new CAP we have ensured the transfer of more than 50,000 million euros, plus other plans such as recovery funds or co-financing.

The countryside takes to the streets of Madrid to demand

-But the hunters also protest, the world of the bull…

-In hunting, 15 days ago we reached an agreement on the first national strategy for sustainable hunting activity. Many hunters, some of them occupying high positions representing the hunting world, have sent me their congratulations. Also in relation to the native breeds, which we have 165 in Spain, of which we have 25 in production and 140 in danger of extinction, but trying to protect. They are a good example of what we are doing. In the background of the manifestation there are two aspects. A concern for the current moment, for the increase in energy costs, the evolution of fuel prices and nitrogen fertilizers. And then we have the course on raw materials, especially with regard to cereals and oilseeds. It is true that it costs more to feed the animals, but also our cereal producers are obtaining the best yields on the market. Therefore, there is a problem that is like life itself, complex, difficult, it is a challenge in which we are oriented towards sustainable food systems. The underlying feeling is that the rural world wants to be heard since they were essential in the hardest moments of the pandemic.

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“Part of the demands of the demonstration are issues on which we are already working”

“Within the organizers there are different positions on many different issues and interests”

-Are you afraid that this movement will lead to acts like those of the ‘yellow vests’ in France?

-These are positions of very different groups among which there is no convergence, but rather different interests from the point of view of the rural world. They circulate in parallel and, it must also be said, within the organizers themselves there are different positions on many issues. For example, regarding the CAP: we have taken into account and have achieved a national strategic plan agreed with the communities, which is very broad and very flexible in its application, with which it takes into account various realities. The northern vision is not the southern vision. Different positions coexist within the organizations themselves, or between two communities or two provinces in the same region, the same position is not necessarily defended. And I, as a minister, have to take a single position to Brussels, not a sum of different positions.

How far would you be willing to give in?

-A good part of the elements of the platform of this demonstration are, as I mentioned before, issues that we have been working on, such as the CAP. We invest in sustainable irrigation, we increase the allocation of agricultural insurance. It is true that we have an extraordinary situation caused by the war. The gas fixation system and what influences electricity is not normal. And this volatility also affects the agri-food sector. My concern is centered on animal feed, that is, the supply of maize: we have already managed to make import conditions more flexible in the EU. On the other hand, the problem regarding sunflower oil, of which we import more than half a million tons from Ukraine. In addition, I am going to ask to use the fallow land or the surfaces set aside on the farm so that they can be put into production exceptionally and temporarily. I am convinced that both measures will have results. In fact, we have guaranteed the supply of corn for the production of feed practically in a period of between 45 and 60 days. In the case of sunflower oil, we have other alternative vegetable fats that can be perfectly used and we are also seeing how olive oil and companies in the sector have increased their prices very significantly in recent days. And as for fertilizers, we have a purchase that is more than 50% of national production, which is different in the rest of the EU, but obviously in relation to higher prices than usual.

European performances

-But many of these decisions depend on Brussels, not on the Government of Spain.

-It is that we have to have European and national performances. Because the EU has jurisdiction over them. Therefore, it seems to me necessary and key that the European Union moves and adopts decisions of support.

«I do not see, for now, signs of moderation or agreements in the Feijóo PP»

-This Monday you have a council of EU agriculture ministers. What are you going to say there?

-The first, that article 219 of the Common Organization of Agricultural Markets be activated, which involves the mobilization of EU funds to respond and support farmers and ranchers, especially the sectors most affected by the current moment. According to what the Commission tells us, that figure will be approximately 500 million euros, of which Spain, I hope, will achieve a good endowment. Secondly, we want measures to make the agricultural policy more flexible, such as advancing the amount of the payments for the month of October of this year’s share, raising the amount received or making the conditions more flexible given the extraordinary situation that must be justified for the collection of those helps. Also regarding the possibility of using unused rural development funds, as was done during the pandemic, in the possibility of direct aid to farmers and ranchers. All this I think is a very solid package for the primary sector. And on the European part, we will have to build the response in Spain. For this reason, next week’s Council will be key and crucial.

“It is key that the EU moves and adopts supportive decisions on which Spain can act”

-However, the approval of a tax reduction in Spain to cushion this crisis is still pending. Why are they going to wait until next March 29 for it?

-When you have government responsibilities, you try to adopt decisions that are transversal and that respond to the situation. I give you an example of the primary sector: this week we have adopted a decree on drought, with numerous support measures and aid. And we have done it because it responded to the drought, to the most affected regions and had a preparation course. Therefore, there is a schedule that has a logic.

-But we live in a time that requires quick and forceful actions, don’t you think?

-We live in a world of emergencies and the situation for many companies is worrying. I don’t think there should be a political use of this. I am hearing some statements from the Popular Party, where its candidate for the next president expresses the urgency to act. Feijóo is campaigning, but obviously he, who has management experience, should understand that preparation and decision-making also require time and preparation. And we are in it. It is not a problem of delay, it is a problem of making the right decision at the right time.

-It seems that the Government, and this is how it is penetrating among the population, does not finish wanting to approve these tax reductions and that, as Feijóo himself indicated, it is “lining money” with inflation.

-If someone says that out of ignorance, I admit it. But if cultured and informed people say it, it seems to me to be misinformation because, as we all know, the amounts collected from any tax have a finalist aspect, as is evident in the case of VAT. In addition, in Hydrocarbons, the autonomous communities are, to a large extent, its final destination. Therefore, it is not just a problem of balancing public accounts, it is also a problem of response to the situation. And there are different instruments, as we are seeing right now the European Union itself in the decisions of different Member States. There is a possibility, effectively fiscal, but there are other mechanisms through which the situation itself has to be considered. I will give you an example: diesel for transport, agricultural diesel and fishing diesel each have a different regulation. We speak in general of professional diesel, but it is not true. What seems worrying to me is that there are those in Spanish society who believe that the universal solution to all problems is the reduction of taxes. That is a lie, because what should be said is that some think that we have too many taxes and too many good public services and I think we are all aware that the Health we have must be paid for, that we have to pay for Education, the operation of the State, the judiciary, the Security Forces and Bodies and all public services. And this obviously has a financing cost. In other words, the State has to exist, although some would like it to be a minimal State without sufficient resources.


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