Po­ten­tial for in­creas­ing trade with China huge: Lithua­nian Min­is­ter of Agri­cul­ture

Global Times – Metro Beijing - - EMBASSY - By Yin Yeping

Lithuania is a small coun­try in­side the Euro­pean Union (EU), but its agri­cul­tural in­dus­try has taken the lead­ing role in the world in terms of trade and pro­duc­tiv­ity. Ef­fi­cient by Euro­pean stan­dards, Lithuania’s agri­cul­ture pro­duces a large sur­plus that can­not be en­tirely con­sumed do­mes­ti­cally.

As the sec­ond largest sec­tor in the Lithua­nian econ­omy, agri­cul­ture has been one of the coun­try’s main sources of in­come, em­ploy­ment and for­eign ex­change earn­ings. The Global Times (GT) talks with the vis­it­ing Lithua­nian Min­is­ter of Agri­cul­ture Giedrius Sur­plys

(Sur­plys) who shared some of his lat­est con­cerns over food and agri­cul­ture.

GT: Brus­sels is propos­ing an in­vest­ment of $11.37 bil­lion in agri­cul­tural re­search post-2020. New tech­nolo­gies prom­ise to bring ef­fi­cien­cies to tra­di­tional agri­cul­ture, whilst oth­ers are skep­ti­cal about its yield re­sults. How would you see it?

Sur­plys: In gen­eral, I think this in­vest­ment of $11.37 bil­lion into tech­nol­ogy and in­no­va­tion in agri­cul­ture is a very wise one. Be­cause agri­cul­ture as I see it is one of the most at­trac­tive sec­tors that is very much in need of in­no­va­tion and tech­nol­ogy. We can speak about feed types and sen­sor-based farm­ing. These need a lot of bright minds, en­thu­si­asm and money. I think this al­lo­ca­tion of $11.37 bil­lion from hori­zon 2020 pro­gram is a very smart de­ci­sion.

I know that some­body is afraid that smart farm­ing will steal jobs from peo­ple, but in Lithuania we have quite a num­ber of com­pa­nies which have al­ready im­ple­mented smart

farm­ing. What they say about the pro­gram is that it is not steal­ing jobs but mak­ing peo­ple change jobs. So we will not see a re­duc­tion of em­ploy­ees in the farm­ing sec­tor due to in­no­va­tion and tech­nol­ogy, but we will see these peo­ple chang­ing their mind­set and ed­u­cat­ing them­selves and con­tin­u­ing to work with the ma­chines, pro­cesses and sys­tems. We must be fron­trun­ners [in agri­cul­tural re­search and in­no­va­tion]. We can­not sleep, re­lax and be over­taken by other coun­tries.

Also, I want to say that be­fore in­vest­ing in tech­nolo­gies and in­no­va­tions of agri­cul­ture, we must first en­sure a level play­ing ground for the farm­ers of all the EU mem­ber coun­tries, be­cause to­day our farm­ers are re­ceiv­ing much less di­rect pay­ments to their farms per hectare than the rest of Europe. By do­ing so, we can’t avoid that some coun­tries will be lead­ers and some will not. GT: In the con­text of the tar­iff war be­tween China and the US, a grow­ing num­ber of Euro­pean agri­cul­tural pro­duc­ers see an op­por­tu­nity to re­place Amer­i­can prod­ucts in the Chi­nese mar­ket. What is your view?

Sur­plys: Lithuania is a very big fan of free trade. We have wit­nessed our fast in­te­gra­tion into the World Trade Or­ga­ni­za­tion (WTO) and the EU, and this helped us to in­crease our GDP by four times and ex­ports by 10 times over the past 20 years. So we are re­ally in fa­vor of free trade and we are against lim­it­ing free trade. Due to the pos­si­bil­i­ties that free trade of­fers, we have a big­ger am­bi­tion and we have a huge po­ten­tial of in­creas­ing our trade with China. Now we have a deficit of trade with ex­ports from China times big­ger than our im­ports to China when talk­ing about food and agri­cul­ture. In 2017, our food ex­ports in­creased by 46 per­cent, and we think that we are on a good track, es­pe­cially that our po­lit­i­cal dia­logue has in­ten­si­fied and our pres­i­dent Dalia Gry­bauskaitė is com­ing to the China In­ter­na­tional Im­port Expo in Shang­hai in early Novem­ber.

GT: The EU’s tar­iff on agri­cul­tural prod­ucts are rel­a­tively high, and the ad­van­ta­geous prod­ucts that China ex­ports to the EU, such as vegeta­bles, fruits, fish, and to­bacco, are all be­ing im­posed with high tar­iffs. What are the rea­sons be­hind this?

Sur­plys: The EU is now bas­ing one-third of its trade on the free trade agree­ment (FTA). If we would fi­nal­ize all of the FTA that we are in­volved in now it would be two-thirds of the EU trade. In gen­eral, we are mov­ing to­wards the FTA with many coun­tries. What we have to keep in mind is that the agri­cul­tural sec­tor is a very sen­si­tive one, be­cause it is re­lated to food safety, en­vi­ron­ment, so­cial and eco­nom­i­cal fac­tors, there­fore, both the EU and China are very cau­tious. I fully un­der­stand that we must be cau­tious and must have all the scru­ti­nized pro­ce­dures be­cause it is a very sen­si­tive thing. So these things need time. The last thing when we speak of the EU tar­iffs is the pro­tec­tion of in­vest­ment and we still have home­work to do in this field. If we want to in­vest, we must en­sure that our in­vest­ments are pro­tected in the coun­try.

GT: Eastern Europe has wit­nessed sev­eral out­breaks of African swine fever. Within the free move­ment zone, sev­eral coun­tries have re­ported out­breaks in­clud­ing Lithuania. Re­cently you have called on the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion to cover losses in­curred by the coun­try’s farm­ers from drought and swine fever. How much dam­age has this virus con­trib­uted to the agri­cul­tural in­dus­try of Lithuania?

Sur­plys: Around 30,000 pigs have been lost due to the fever. We have not cal­cu­lated pre­cisely so far. In gen­eral, our pig farm­ers are en­sured that they are paid for each pig [by the gov­ern­ment] if they have to cull them.

But we have a prob­lem when we speak about the rule of re­gion­al­iza­tion that the EU has de­cided to im­pose on each EU mem­ber due to the re­quire­ment of the WTO. If a dead pig is found due to the African swine fever, farms within ten kilo­me­ters around the af­fected area are banned from ex­port­ing their pigs. Due to this is­sue, I have asked the EU to think of ways to com­pen­sate for these losses.

In gen­eral, the EU is very sen­si­tive about the fever and is tak­ing all the mea­sures to com­bat it. But we are not the only ones in the EU be­liev­ing that this ex­port ban is an overly strict sanc­tion, be­cause we think that even if your farm is just five kilo­me­ters away from the in­fected ar­eas, it doesn’t mean to say that the fever can also be found in your farms. We are now ne­go­ti­at­ing with the EU about this and we will see how it goes.

Cour­tesy of Giedrius Sur­plys Photo:

Lithua­nian Min­is­ter of Agri­cul­ture Giedrius Sur­plys

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