Hundreds of Stockbreeders Demand to Be Treated on Equal Terms with EU Counterparts

Hundreds of Stockbreeders Demand to Be Treated on Equal Terms with EU Counterparts

Hundreds of stockbreeders from all over the country gathered for a protest rally in front of the
Agriculture and Food Ministry on Wednesday, BTA reported.

The rally was supported by the Association of Milk Producers in Bulgaria (AMPB), the National Breeding Association of Milk and Meat Producers, the Association of Grain producers and the National Beekeeping Union.

The AMPB said the main purpose of the rally is to demand the payment of annual subsidies for the quality milk produced, decreasing VAT on farm products, establishment of an identification system for animals, a mechanism guaranteeing minimum purchase prices for meat and milk, free of charge allocation of state- and municipal-owned land to stockbreeders, revocation of Code 6 (classifying permanent pastures and meadows as non-farmed land, therefore not eligible for subsidies), revising the excise duty charged on fuel used by stockbreeders.

"Bulgarian husbandry is placed under unequal competitive conditions compared with the other European Union member states and the neighboring countries," the Union of Poultry Breeders in Bulgaria says in a declaration received at BTA. "It is not possible to have a single market of countries with a varying degree of assistance provided for producers," the declaration reads.

Costa Caras, President of the Association of Romanian Stockbreeders, who attended the rally in front of the Agriculture and Food Ministry, expressed the support of Romanian stockbreeders for the protesters and called for joint actions. Romanian and Bulgarian stockbreeders should strive for being paid subsidies equal to those received by their counterparts in the other EU member states, he said.

Caras called on Bulgarian stockbreeders to block the western border and prevent the export of animal products from Bulgaria and Romania to the EU.

The participants in the rally demanded the resignation of Agriculture and Food Minister Valeri Tsvetanov accusing him of behavior that is incompatible with the situation.

Tsvetanov went to the protesters and said that by Thursday stockbreeders will be paid the subsidies for milk due for March 2008 which total 1.7 million leva. He confirmed that on Monday he will insist before Brussels for a notification of the payment of 60 million leva as a national subsidy for husbandry. In his words, most of the stockbreeders' demands have been met. He pledged that as of 2009 subsidies will be paid per animal head and not per unit of area as it is now. Tsvetanov was applauded when he said he had signed a bill which would allow to rent municipal- and state-owned land, as well as pastures and meadows to stockbreeders without holding auctions or competitions. he bill has been submitted to the Council of Ministers, he said.

Tsvetanov told the participants in the rally that the Director of the National Revenue Agency, Maria Mourgina, had agreed to cancel the VAT charged on milk subsidies for 2007.

By the end of this week the terms "common grassland" and "pasture" will be clearly defined. On Tuesday Tsvetanov signed a document lifting the restrictions ensuing from the so-called "Code 6" (non-farmed land), which were introduced by his predecessor Nihat Kabil, and now farmers can get subsidies for land used for grazing upon approval of their applications by the respective municipal services. Milk producers will get 0.14 leva in addition to the current 0.06 leva per litre of cow's milk and plus 0.19 leva per litre of buffalo's milk as part of the subsidies they have to be paid for March, Tsvetanov said taking a question.

Tsvetanov invited the stockbreeders to name their representatives who would accompany him to Brussels between September 2 and 5 for negotiations. "I have been encouraged by Brussels for achieving an effective solution," he said.

Later in the day, representatives of the protesters met with Sofia Mayor and informal GERB party leader Boiko Borissov. "If the government extends the 60 million leva and fulfills its promise to resolve the problem with the protesting farmers we [GERB] will not attack them on that account," Borissov said emerging from the meeting.

According to him, even if Bulgaria is fined by the European Commission for the extension of these funds by the government without the EC approval, this will not have a significant effect on the money the EU provides for agriculture in Bulgaria which totals 1,000 million leva. Borissov added that since more than 44 per cent of the funds in the EU budget are allotted for agriculture "it is a shame to be unable to take from these funds for Bulgaria's farming."

The protest will continue until Sunday, with one tent standing in front of the Agriculture and Food Ministry and with protest actions between 6:00 am and 10:00 pm. Representatives of the association of stockbreeders said public order would not be violated.

Photo: BGNES

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