Ladies and gentlemen, dear colleagues,
I must say I’m very impressed to see so many of you here today.
I also understand that Minister Sarovic, who is quite committed to this issues, I know that for a fact, and I just discussed some of these questions with him a couple of days ago, is busy with the Council of Ministers session as we speak.
But I think that real experts on the BiH side are here today. I am not a real expert on these issues. All I can tell you is that, since I first started working with EU matters,when my own country Sweden joined the EU in 1995/96, we had very serious phytosanitary related issue named, so called ‘mad cow disease’ which completely dominated, overshadowed just about anything else.
And I can tell you in terms of our relations at the time, in those days we still traded with Canada and US. But the kind of difficulties we had with these countries and other major trading partners because of this Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) problem were enormous and affected our entire agricultural sector.
These are issues that are very important. They are not just technical, they are by definition political, because they concern, first of all, as we have already said during the press conference, the potential for your agricultural and rural sector to benefit from the world’s single largest market- EU- with 500 million consumers.
There are no restrictions to the EU market, and EU is not divided into bits and pieces. That’s not the case, the market is completely open.
Yes, there are some quotas etc., but that is for the entire EU. This has importance for this country and citizens, because it is a question of public health.
Your phytosanitary standards here are not up to pair in general.
They have improved over the previous years, when, for instance, your milk and dairy producers were able to meet EU standards over a year ago, or potato, or any other product where you meet EU standards. You also help to improve the food safety of your own citizens, of yourself, of all of us sitting around this table.
We all consume, and that is one thing we all have in common, food. And one should not lose sight of this basic fact.
Now, I also think that agriculture and rural development of this country is one of your most important sectors. But, as I already said, it is also, in my opinion, one of the most neglected.
Your farmers have suffered. We realized this during the discussion this summer on so called adaptation of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) when farmers came forward and said they are very unhappy, and they focused a lot of their attention on this adaptation, which is fairly limited.
But what they were really talking about is the state of agriculture in this country and that is perhaps the subject of a different conference.
Phytosanitary measures are extremely important in this context, and that is what I want to highlight. Many of you know this very well, and I think it is important to keep this perspective.
The third point I wish to stress is that it is absolutely essential now that BiH comes up with a coherent national strategy for agriculture and rural development. You were able to do it this summer for transport. Why? Because transport is very important, because of the connectivity agenda, this cargo, corridor Vc etc.
The politicians have taken the responsibility there. They have agreed at the entity and state level.
Now is the time to do the same on agriculture, because without the strategy, we cannot work with you.
And this is going to be major impediment, as far as the EU integration, as you cannot move forward in this field.
We have been able to move forward as regards several individual product categories, dairy, potatoes, honey, fish. There is also a remarkable success story of the past year with raspberries which have increased in export value now to 15 million KM.
Serbia is the largest exporter/producer of raspberries in Europe but you also have great potential.
Anybody who goes to the local market, as we do every Saturday, can see great raspberries. This is the sector that is now receiving the increase.
I am sure that there are other such possibilities we may not even realise here today.
So, to meet EU standards is something that is absolutely essential and it is not a political decision.
What is politically important and why we are here today is to underline the significance of these standards.
And if these are not taken seriously, both at the level of technical standards but also the overall strategy and the need to have comprehensive approach for the entire country, you will not be able to move forward.
At the same time, I think it is clear to anyone who lives in this country, and I do live most of the time, that this is maybe your greatest potential – fruits, vegetables, meat etc. It tastes very good.
So I do not see why you cannot meet these standards. Sometimes it is a matter of receiving the right kind of support, taking this seriously, having the proper regulatory authorities, forgetting- if I may say so- some of the squabbles between entities and state.
They should not squabble and use the consumer’s safety, consumer’s health and standards politically.
There are other ways you can make your voice be heard politically. This is my message and I hope it would be passed to all relevant authorities.
Ambassador Lars-Gunnar Wigemark, Head of EU Delegation and EU Special Representative, spoke at the Conference “Strategic development of phyto-sanitary sector in BiH – results and lessons learned under the EU funded twinning project EU FITO BIH” on 3 November 2016.