TALLINN - Current EU regulations may deprive Estonian importers of the possibility to acquire banana quotas, which would ultimately leave the local banana market wide open and lead to a sharp increase in prices, the daily Eesti Paevaleht wrote this week.
At present the EU only allows companies that sell at least 250,000 euros' worth of bananas per year to apply for banana quotas. Such companies receive the status of a "nontraditional operator," while companies with even larger turnover receive the even more favorable status of "traditional operator."
In a letter to EU Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler, the deputy chancellor of the Estonian Agriculture Ministry, Andres Oopkaup, explained that companies in Estonia, with its tiny population of 1.34 million, are unable to meet either of these requirements. Furthermore, he argued, Estonia was not a member of the common market when the regulations were established.
"In our view, Regulation No. 896/2001 in its present form gives a clear competition advantage to firms that are already importing bananas into the common market," Oopkaup wrote.
"This pushes Estonian importers out of the market because they cannot offer a competitive price when importing bananas outside the quota system. This means that there will no longer be sufficient competition on the Estonian banana market, and the price of bananas will significantly rise."
Oopkaup claimed that importing bananas outside quotas would add 8 kroons (0.51 euro) to 1 kilogram of bananas. If, under these circumstances, a European company were allowed to sell its cheap bananas on the local market, the operation of Estonian importers would become pointless.
Oopkaup suggested to Fischler that firms established on the Estonian market be treated on an equal footing with "traditional" and "nontraditional" operators and that after accession Estonia be allowed 12,000 tons of bananas per year under preferential quotas, which would only raise the per kilo price by 1.5 kroons - 2 kroons.