Established in 1952 and based in Brussels, Europatat is the European Potato Trade Association, where associations and companies from the sector meet and whose main objective is to protect and improve the potato trade in the European market. We interviewed its director, the Spanish Raquel Izquierdo, who analyzes the possible consequences of Brexit, the current situation and the challenges facing the sector, among other issues.
The European agricultural sector is experiencing, in recent times, a convulsive era, with Brexit, and its consequences, just around the corner, and in full debate of the new PAC post 2020. How is it affecting or can affect the sector European potato both circumstances?
Europatat members (including companies based on both sides of the canal) are obviously concerned about the future of potato trade between EU-27 member states and the United Kingdom after Brexit, particularly if it were without agreement. Therefore, Europatat closely follows all the preparation plans by the EU and the Member States, and has been directly involved in bilateral meetings with the European Commission Preparatory Group. Specifically, Europatat advocates on behalf of the sector so that the potato trade can continue thanks to a contingency measure. Meanwhile, members are advised to continue preparing for an exit without UK agreement.
As for the CAP, potatoes are one of the few agricultural products that are not covered by a specific EU market regime. Thus, any change in the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) must be taken into account, and in particular, the market measures that are the ones that can most affect the sector. Although the scope of the provisions applicable to the potato sector has increased, these provisions are horizontal in nature and apply equally to all sectors (for example, the new Community rules of unfair commercial practices in the food chain). Europatat participates in the expert meetings of the Commission and is in contact with several members of the European Parliament to monitor the reform closely and concretely.Food security continues to be prominent in the sector’s agenda.
In productive terms, what is the current situation of the potato in Europe?
European potato production was affected in 2018 by the worst drought in more than 40 years, and crops suffered from the lack of rain and very high temperatures. According to specialized sources in the sector, the 2019 production should be of a volume higher than last year or even higher than the average of recent years. This greater volume can be absorbed by the market thanks to investments in industry capacity during recent years and the lack of potatoes from the 2018 harvest.
In an increasingly globalized market, how is the projection of the European potato in the rest of the world?
Total world potato production reached 388,191 million tons in 2017. There has been a dramatic increase in potato production and demand in Asia, Africa and Latin America. China is now the largest producer, and almost a third of all potatoes are produced in China and India. However, potatoes remain an important crop for Europe. A 56mT production in 2017 places the region in second place worldwide. The European potato sector shows a competitive advantage in international markets, especially in the subsectors of seed potatoes and processed products. In fact, the EU is a net exporter of potatoes: in 2017, it traded 1.2mT worth around 500 million euros. These were mainly seed potatoes and also consumption potatoes.
What markets are we present in?
Potatoes are mainly marketed in the EU internal market, especially in the case of consumer potatoes. In 2017, 6 million tons of potatoes were marketed in the EU, and 540,000 tons were mainly exported to Senegal, Switzerland and Norway. In the case of seed potatoes, EU exports accounted for 87% of world trade in 2018, with the Netherlands responsible for 53% of total world trade. The main destinations are Egypt, Algeria, Saudi Arabia and Morocco, Libya or Turkey.
What more immediate challenges does the sector have ahead? Where are you walking to?
Food security continues to occupy a prominent place on the agenda of the sector, which takes very seriously the policy of the European Commission and the member states to reduce the use of pesticides. Currently, both public authorities and consumers are increasingly demanding commitment to achieve sustainable food production while maintaining safety levels.
Food safety and quality. In this sense, potatoes are a sustainable and healthy option: highly nutritious, while having a low environmental impact. The sector is also highly innovative. Operators are constantly looking for the optimal way to grow potatoes, including innovative technology to determine the most efficient and sustainable cultivation methods, optimize quality during growth and harvest, reduce waste and less energy use during storage.
What problems are you facing today?
Potato consumption is declining in many European countries due to several factors: an unattractive image, added to wrong messages by some means that carbohydrate consumption must be reduced. From Europatat we support the message (based on scientific studies) that potatoes should be part of a healthy and balanced diet, since they play an important role in offering not only many nutritional benefits compared to other carbohydrates, but also versatility, convenience, flavor and, not least, a sustainable option for consumers. For this reason, the promotion of potato consumption at European level remains one of the priorities for Europatat, and very soon we hope to announce an important innovation in this regard.
Europatat is one of the oldest associations in Europe. What role does it play in favor of the sector?
Europatat is positioned as “the eyes, ears and voice” of the sector at European level. From Brussels we monitor and decipher the complex policy and legislation that affects the potato supply chain, maintaining regular contact with the services of the Commission and the European Parliament. In addition, we offer multiple opportunities for the great protagonists of this sector to meet, discuss and decide in common the route to follow to defend our interests at European and global level.