HC Deb 22 June 2004 vol 422 cc1291-2W
Mr. Hood

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what the outcome was of the Agriculture and Fisheries Council on 24 May; what the Government's stance was on the issues discussed, including its voting record; and if she will make a statement. [176229]

Margaret Beckett

My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary and I represented the United Kingdom at the EU Agriculture and Fisheries Council on 24 May 2004.

The first agenda item, held as a public debate, was the Council Decision for the establishment of Regional Advisory Councils (RACs). RACs will enable the fishing industry and other stakeholders to have an input in the Common Fisheries Policy management process. The Council Decision provides the basic principles and guidelines for setting up RACs, and should enable interested parties to take forward their proposals quickly. We in common with most other member states stressed the importance of RACs as a key part of CFP reform, marking a step change towards more inclusive and regionally-focused fisheries management. There was unanimous support for the Decision, which incorporated important amendments on transparency, increased Community funding for RACs and provision for a seventh RAC to cover stakeholder interests in non-EC waters. The other six RACs will cover the North Sea, Mediterranean, Baltic, South Western Waters, North Western Waters and the pelagic fishery (species such as herring and mackerel).

We explained to colleagues in the Council that the Prime Minister's Strategy Unit had recently published a report of recommendations for a sustainable and profitable UK fishing industry. We noted that the report was relevant at EU level, and indicated that we were looking to engage with colleagues on these issues.

The Council agreed a number of changes to the Financial Instrument for Fisheries Guidance (FIFG) to make funding available at the discretion of member states: for the implementation of the strategy for the sustainable development of European aquaculture (part of CFP reform); to increase support to those in the catching sector subject to stock recovery plans, and to support the fitting of acoustic devices (pingers) on fishing nets to reduce by-catches of small cetaceans.

The Council received a report from Commissioner Fischler on developments in the Doha Development Agenda negotiations following the recent Lamy-Fischler letter to WTO Trade Ministers amplifying the EU's negotiating position, and on the negotiations on a possible EU-Mercosur free trade agreement. A number of Ministers stressed the importance of the Commission playing its hand carefully in these talks, avoiding the risk of giving concessions that were unreciprocated. I and several other colleagues endorsed the Commission's negotiating strategy and emphasised the importance of securing a framework DDA agreement before the summer break if at all possible.