EU sets symbolic quotas for Latvia

  • 2000-07-06
  • Valters Medenis
RIGA - The European Union has asked Latvia to supply Europe with tons
of agricultural produce. The question is whether the quotas granted
by EU are enough to benefit the agricultural farmer in Latvia.

"This is a good gesture by EU for Latvia to meet some of the needs
of Europe. EU needs the Latvian exports to meet its quotas," said
Geoffrey Barrot, spokesman for the European Commission in Latvia.

The Ministry of Agriculture is pleased that EU has offered export
quotas for Latvia. The first of the goods under quota will be
exported to Europe July 1.

"The biggest winners will be the pig farmers, dairy producers, the
poultry industry and growers. EU has requested annual amounts of
1,585 tons of butter, 3,000 tons of cheese, 1,250 tons of pork, 625
tons of chickens and 4,000 tons of milk powder. The amounts could
rise, " said Rigonda Lerhe, spokeswoman from the Ministry of
Agriculture. "The tons of exported cheese to Europe are up 100
percent on the amount exported last year and butter is up 67 percent."

The farm union Latviesu Zemnieku Savienibu said the offers to export
produce to Europe is just symbolic and will not benefit the average

"The quotas are humorous and simply not enough to give any
significant profits to the farmer. EU does not want our agricultural
industry to join the union. Europe has enough supply to meet its
demand," said Aivars Berkis, spokesman for the Latvian Farmers

Lerhe said the quotas are a great opportunity to exploit the zero
customs and export duties.

"Until the time we join EU, there will be no customs and export s
duties. The agreement signed between Latvia and EU is an opportunity
to make use of the liberalization of Europe's free market at a low
cost to Latvia," said Lerhe.

Latvijas Zemnieku Savieniba spokesman, Edgars Silikalns, said
farmers are self-destructing, and the gesture from EU for a reduction
in duties only helps the government's pocket.

"There is no hope for the future for Latvian farmers. EU wants us to
meet a small amount of their quotas, and when we join EU they will
squeeze us out of our own domestic market," said Silakalns.

The idea of extra exports does not displease everyone. Janis Ejis,
spokesman from the milk company Rigas Piensaimnieks, said Latvia can
benefit from the quotas.

"Times are hard for everyone, and if our export market can grow it
can only be good. The dairy industry needs all the help it can get,"
said Ejis.

The ministry said the quotas are a great chance for Latvia to become
acquainted with the free European market.

"Slowly, over time, Latvian industries will know what to offer the
free market in Europe," said Lerhe.

Both the farmers' federations in Latvia said the government needs to
protect the local market. If there is protection from imports into
the local market, the amount of produce from the agricultural
industry will increase.

"Our rural industry is two times under the production level to
comply with EU standards. What hope do we have when Latvia joins? The
custom and export duties will be dropped and the quotas will vanish,"
said Berkis.

"We need maximum growth in agriculture so we can compete equally
with EU," said Andris Silins, spokesman for Ventspils Regional
Farmers Federation.

Maigars Krams, the Ministry of Agriculture's secretary on EU
questions, said there will be no bad effects from the quotas.

"The quotas will strengthen our export market. To receive the export
quotas, Latvia needed to drop its import levies on domestic pork
protection. We have done this, and locally produced pork has not
suffered on the domestic market. The ministry is confident this will
be the case with other domestic agricultural industries, if Latvia
joins EU," said Krams.