09 July 2003

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FOI says government lagging in post-EU consultations

The Federation of Industry said Government machinery was losing the momentum and coordination needed within the consultation mechanism that existed at negotiation stage which led to the final agreement with the EU.
The FOI said a typical example was the duty free market access to EU member states promised to the Federation’s members in the food and beverage industry in advance of the date of accession.
"This has been delayed from the projected date of 1st May, 2003," FOI noted. "In spite of repeated representations and discussions between the FOI and Government there is still no definite date of implementation from Brussels."
FOI also said there was a ‘mystery’ surrounding the so-called ‘safeguard clause’ that will apply during the five-year transition period:
"The Federation notes with satisfaction the determined stand taken by the Minister for Rural Affairs and Environment, the Hon. George Pullicino in a recent statement on this matter.
"The clause was negotiated by Government for the benefit of farmers growing local fruit and vegetables, those rearing life-stock for milk and meat production together with the processing industry that is intrinsically linked to them. This transition clause was agreed upon by the EU member states because there was universal recognition of the special and difficult circumstances under which agriculture and the related processing industry operates in Malta and to give it a better chance to develop its strengths."
FOI said it was confident Government was determined to give this sector a chance and that it means to implement the ‘safeguard clause’ effectively and under clear rules. The FOI urged Government not to give in to pressures from some quarters that for reasons of their own ignore the importance of this sector.
"The Federation draws the attention of the public to the fact that there is at stake the livelihood of several thousand persons dependent on rural and industrial activities, and a substantial capital invested in this sector.
"Moreover, Malta needs both a measure of food security as well as safeguards to its environment. The agricultural community is the best guarantee for both."
The FOI’s members in the beverages and food processing industry are concerned at the uncertainty prevailing on the matter because there has been no consultation, the rules are still not known and there is no assurance that the related mechanism will be speedy and effective.
"Consultation can help to give a measure of comfort to investors in this industry whilst encouraging them to risk further investment to improve efficiency, output and quality. The ‘safeguard’ mechanism has to be defined clearly for each segment and product without further delay. Industry plans its future in advance, and time is running out especially if the current lull means a postponement of the important decisions till after the summer months."
FOI also said time was running out for Government to consult industry about the mechanism that will operate the refund system that will apply for the importation of essential commodities such as sugar, wheat and rice amongst others.
"The Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs, and the Ministry for Rural Affairs and Environment should be more forthcoming with definite plans, information and consultation. The private sector is willing to collaborate and make sure that EU membership is turned to Malta’s advantage."

Copyright © Newsworks Ltd. Malta.
Editor: Saviour Balzan
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