By Milagros Jurado
The Director General of Agricultural Production of MAPAMA, Valentin Almansa, responds in the following interview to outstanding issues of his Department, such as the current situation of Spain in relation to the Xylella or the importance of the daily control that is carried out in the borders to preserve the plant and animal health of our productions. The last extension granted by the EU to the use of glyphosate, together with the export agreements that are being forged this year with third countries, have been other issues addressed.
e-Comercio Agrario: Last October, the European Commission approved the Containment Protocol for Xylella Fastidiosa in the Balearic Islands, how is this strategy being developed? Regarding other areas of the national territory, what action protocol is planned to be developed? Are measures for the eradication of affected specimens envisaged, as envisaged in the community regulations?
Valentín Almansa: the actions that are taking place, both in the Balearic Islands and in Alicante, should be addressed, in accordance with our system of competences, to the authorities of the Autonomous Community. Therefore, it is these authorities that can offer more detailed information.
However, in general, I would like to point out some questions:
In Spain, an active surveillance program has been developed for the detection of this disease since 2014.
The program is reviewed every year and has been reinforced and, until now, only the presence of the bacteria in the Balearic Islands and Alicante has been detected.
- In the Balearic Islands the bacterium is widely distributed and affects multiple plant species, which is why a containment strategy is being applied that includes three main lines:
- The prohibition of the departure of the islands, also the movement between the islands, of plant material (plants and planting material).
- The increase of surveillance in all the islands.
- The cutting of positive trees and plants.
- In Alicante, and with the information that we have up to now, the disease affects only the Almonds of a certain area, so the eradication strategy seems the most appropriate. This strategy includes cutting plants and trees in infected areas (100 m radius around each positive).
ECA: you have always raised the maxim that “a good level in Animal and Plant Health is what allows more doors to open for the export of agri-food products”, however, that premise is not met with third countries to which no the same sanitary and phytosanitary guarantee requirements are required as for Community productions, as is the case of oranges imported from South Africa affected by Black Spot … What specific actions should the European Commission introduce to reinforce the safety of the products that enter into the market?
V.A .: Spain has always defended at Community level the need to carry out a rigorous border control in matters of Plant Health. In fact, the new EU regulation is already an important step forward; thanks, among others, to the Spanish intervention in the elaboration process.
“With regard to the Regulation on Black Spot, I would like to comment that, although we consider it improvable, and for that reason we voted against in the corresponding Committees, it should be noted that today it is stricter and more demanding than it was a few years ago and that in fact, the number of detections is clearly lower than at the beginning of this debate”
For the Ministry, Internal Health begins at the borders and with this idea we work daily, both at the inspection points and when discussing the applicable regulations. Remember that the Border Control regulation is Europe and it is decided in this area.
ECA: future trade agreements, such as the one being prepared with Mercosur, are balanced in terms of sanitary and phytosanitary requirements that are being negotiated for the agri-food productions that their member countries wish to export to the EU?
V.A .: the SPS part (sanitary and phytosanitary requirements) of the agreements is very important and we are always very attentive to this part of the negotiation. From our point of view it is a key part and we work so that it is not harmful to our interests.
ECA: from its General Directorate, the negotiations of sanitary and phytosanitary agreements with third countries are managed, a key point for the import and export of products of animal and vegetable origin … With which markets are currently negotiated in terms of sanitary controls and phytosanitary What are the main issues put on the table?
V.A .: this is a work that has no end and the problems vary from day to day; now for example we try to lift the restrictions that some countries have imposed on our planting material due to the Xylella.
I would like to highlight in this section that we work closely with the sector that sets us the priorities, within the framework of the Working Group for the Internationalization of the fruit and vegetables sector, in which the Ministry of Commerce and representatives of the main representative associations of the producing and exporting sectors.
The list of open negotiations is long and normally the times to reach agreements are also long. I could cite as an example the negotiations with Argentina to open the market for stone fruit (peach, plum), cherries and apples; with the US these markets are also being negotiated. Throughout this year we hope to advance in an important way in the talks to close an export agreement for table grapes to important markets such as China or Vietnam, which we have been negotiating for years. For other products such as persimmon, we are working very actively to initiate commercial exchanges (India, Japan, Vietnam, Peru, …). The last audit we have had has been to open the cherry market to Thailand, and we hope to conclude this export agreement shortly.
Also part of our work is to consolidate and maintain already open markets, and try to improve the phytosanitary conditions of export campaigns in progress, such as the export of peppers to the US, or citrus to Japan.
ECA: in the Symposium of Plant Health, held in Seville last year, it was clear the importance of phytosanitary products to ensure the supply of food to present and future populations, in that line, how do you value the recent approval of a extension for authorization in the use of glyphosate?
V.A .: Well, with a bittersweet taste. Satisfied with the renewal of the substance, according to the available technical and scientific information. But honestly, I think a longer renewal period should have been agreed upon.
ECA: from the sector it is claimed that political decisions on issues that concern the future of crops are more based on scientific criteria than conditioned by the pressure of public opinion, do you consider that, in fact, there should be more connection between the scientific community and the political sphere when taking important decisions, such as the authorization of active materials for phytosanitary use?
V.A .: this is a very complicated debate, where not only “the Ministry” plays. It is necessary that we analyze in detail what is happening, and what different states say, such as the European Parliament and even some regional parliaments of very productive areas, not to mention the decisions that some European Union Member States are taking in this ambit. Nor can we ignore the great sensitivity that public opinion shows towards this issue.
“We believe that science should dictate our decisions and not” opinions “and with that idea we work at all levels”
From the Ministry we believe that the debate should be maintained in the scientific / technical field, which is the only way to not make mistakes or mislead people.