Poľský minister: Babiš je našim nejvážnějším konkurentom
Andrej Babiš je najväčším konkurentom poľských firiem. Jeho postavenie vzbudzuje obavy, myslí si Marek Sawicki v rozhovore pre biztweet
"Osobne si nemyslím, že pán Andrej Babiš, z pozície podpredsedu vlády a ministra financií Českej republiky, blokuje poľských podnikateľov. Samozrejme, je potrebné poznamenať, že Agrofert a ďalšie spoločnosti patriace pánovi Babišovi sú významnými a pravdepodobne najsilnejšími konkurentmi poľských výrobcov na českom, ale aj slovenskom trhu,. Z tohto pohľadu, poľskí výrobcovia môžu mať niektoré domnienky o jeho, v súčasnej dobe väčšom vplyve na konkurencieschopnosť," hovorí pre biztweet minister poľnohospodárstva Poľska Marek Sawicki.
Rozhovor v anglickej verzii čítajte tu:
Biztweet: What do you think of the current Czech-Polish relations?
Marek Sawicki: You probably mean the negative media campaigns aimed at Polish food, appearing from time to time.
First of all, we must remember that we are neighbours. We have undergone political transformation together, and we have joined NATO and the European Union together. It is also not without significance that Poles are the second-largest (after Slovaks) national minority in the Czech Republic. It is obvious that trans-border cooperation has been developing for years in such layout.
The agricultural situation in both countries, however, presents itself differently. Poland, as the only one in the former Eastern Bloc, had strong individual farming. Political changes have generated a lot of initiatives, and Polish farmers and processors used all EU and national funds available to them perfectly. Thanks to that we have become a major exporter of food, compared to being a net importer in 2004. More than 75% of exports go to the EU market. Germany is the biggest recipient; the Czech Republic is at the fourth spot. This means that Polish food achieved a reputation among consumers. Also, among our southern neighbours. It is worth noting that, despite a very negative campaign in the years 2012-2014, our exports to the Czech Republic not only did not decrease, but increased, although the growth dynamic was weaker, of course.
I want to note that undermining the quality of food coming from Poland is synonymous with undermining the proper functioning of the entire Polish system of food safety and the departments responsible for it.
There is no approval for it, because the Polish system is fully compatible with European Union's provisions and provides supervision on all stages of production, processing and distribution of food, in accordance with the so-called "farm-to-fork" principle. The efficiency of the tasks' implementation and the competences of Polish inspection services responsible for food safety are positively evaluated by the European Commission, which is confirmed by reports from inspections carried out by European Commission's services, i.e. FVO (Food and Veterinary Office).
Poland and the Czech Republic are bound by the same requirements in terms of food products entering the EU market and the services of our countries responsible for safety operate in accordance with EU legislation. I believe that the Polish services demonstrated their compliance with all procedures and that they are a reliable partner. The effectiveness of our services and the good cooperation with Czech partners are confirmed, inter alia, by proper measures taken in September 2012, due to counterfeit alcohol illegally sold on the Polish market, originating in the Czech Republic, which was poisoned with methanol.
I must stress that in terms of food security and wherever it comes human life and health I am for full transparency and openness. However, it must be based on providing the public with reliable, objective information on the actual extent of the problem and actual level of danger. In this process, the key is the cooperation between the ministries of agriculture of Poland and the Czech Republic, as well as the relevant services in order to improve the exchange of information and clarification of any confusion on a regular basis, with respect to existing procedures.
Let me remind you that in 2013 there were three meetings between the Ministers of Agriculture of Poland and the Czech Republic, with the participation of the inspection services of both countries, responsible for the supervision of food safety and quality. The meetings resulted in establishing that in case of any objections relating to food quality, the services of both countries will remain in direct contact and explain any doubts immediately. Information made available to the public will take into account only proven research on the quality of products and not rumours or gossip.
Poland repeated the above findings during the recent Polish-Czech Intergovernmental Consultations on 20 April 2015 in Prague, in the context of further cases of the Czech media informing about the flawed food from Poland.
Another bilateral meeting at the level of Undersecretaries of State of both Ministries and inspections responsible for food quality and safety planned for the second half of 2015 is a result of the talks in Prague.
We are open to continuing dialogue with the Czech side at ministerial and expert level and to develop cooperation in the field of agriculture. I also hope that we can more effectively use the forum of the Visegrad Group to develop common positions on matters related to the agricultural policy of the EU.
There are also initiatives which serve as a good example of how Polish-Czech cooperation should look like. I'm glad that the Czech Republic and Poland have offered for discussion the joint proposal for the worrying situation on the milk market and the actions to be taken in the Council of Ministers on Agriculture and Fisheries of the EU
Biztweet: The Czech Republic has introduced special rules for exporters. Due to the Russian embargo, Czechs control deliveries before they enter the Czech market. Many companies recognize this as an attack on the Polish agricultural sector. What is your opinion?
Marek Sawicki: Poland and the Czech Republic operate within the Common Market, with free movement of goods as one of its principles. Therefore, any actions discriminating a selected country or a group of countries are unacceptable from the point of view of European law, as well as detrimental to good neighbourly relations and mutual trust within the EU.
The new regulations recently adopted by the Czech Government, as I understand it, concern food from all Member States so I do not want to formulate a conclusion that they are directed against Polish exporters. Of course, the rules will mostly cover food imported directly from Poland and Germany, since nearly half of all foreign agri-food products imported to the Czech Republic comes precisely from these countries. In accordance with the new provisions, the obligation to inform covers the target recipients, that is also Czech food importers. I do not think that we are dealing with discrimination, but it seems that the new regulations might unnecessarily hinder food trade with Poland and other countries. Preliminary data for the year 2014 show that export of Polish agri-food articles to the Czech Republic increased by 5% compared to the year 2013, reaching the level of 1.3 billion euros. I can only hope that this trend will continue.
Biztweet: Polish media publish statements of Polish entrepreneurs that they are blocked by Andrej Babiš. Does his position in the Czech Government threaten Polish firms or affect their competitiveness on the Czech market?
Marek Sawicki: He is a high government official in a democratic country in the European Union. Therefore, he is obliged to respect the laws of both his own country, as well as the principles of the single market, which after all, prohibit placing any obstacles in the development of trade between Member States.
Personally, I don't think that Mr. Andrej Babiš, from the position of Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance of the Czech Republic, blocks Polish entrepreneurs. This is confirmed by statistical data which show that, in the period of him serving high functions, there was no collapse in terms of Polish food imports. Of course, it should be noted that Agrofert and other companies belonging to Prime Minister Babiš are a significant, and most likely the strongest, competitor of Polish producers on the Czech, as well as Slovak, market. From this point of view, Polish producers may make some suppositions about his, currently larger, impact on competitiveness, however, I do not have any direct evidence for it and I believe that today these concerns are unfounded.
Biztweet: What is your opinion on Andrej Babiš's companies extending their operation into the Polish market?
Marek Sawicki: We are open to the activities of foreign companies, which also brings benefits to the Polish economy. We are in a single, community market. Entrepreneurs make the decisions concerning the location of their establishments.
On my part I assure the Czech producers and the relevant bodies responsible for quality control and food safety that we will not impose any difficulties on Czech companies entering the Polish market, neither by initiating additional checks nor by negative media campaigns. We believe that the Czech system of quality control and food safety is just as efficient as the Polish one and we do not see any need for interference here. After all, the consumer provides the ultimate verification. As I mentioned earlier, our exports have increased because Polish food is of high quality and it suits the consumers' tastes.
Biztweet: What do the financial statistics for the previous year show when it comes to agriculture?
Marek Sawicki: Data for 2014 show that the value of Polish agri-foodstuffs export amounted to 21.4 billion euros. When compared to the year 2013 this marks an increase by 4.5% (value of export in 2013 – 20.4 billion euro). Export was directed mainly at the markets of the European Union's Member States.
The Czech Republic was fourth among the largest recipients of Polish agri-food goods in 2014, with sold goods amounting to EUR 1.3 billion. As I have mentioned earlier, this means an increase of 5.0% when compared to 2013 and the Czech Republic's participation in the whole Polish agri-food export is at the level of 6.1%.
Biztweet: What can you say about losses due to the Russian embargo?
Marek Sawicki: The Russian Federation is traditionally an important recipient of Polish agri-food products. In 2013, the Polish export to Russia amounted to 1,252 million euros (an increase of 19% compared to the previous year), which put Russia at the third place in Polish agri-food export, after Germany and the United Kingdom. Traditionally, apples enjoyed the greatest interest.
In 2014, Russia introduced a number of bans on Polish agri-food products. These included: from 1 August 2014 - ban on the import of selected fruits and vegetables from Poland, including apples, and on 7 August 2014 - a year-long ban on many food products, among others, from UE countries, including Poland, which was extended in June 2015 for another year, that is, until August 2016. In 27 January 2014, the Russian Federation also introduced restrictions on the import of live pigs, pork, pork products from EU countries, including Poland, in connection with occurrences of African swine fever in boars and pigs.
The introduced bans resulted in actual blocking of the Russian market for many agri-food products and, as a consequence, a decline in the value of exports of these goods to Russia by 30%, to the level of 882 million euro. Statistical data for the first 4 months of 2015 shows that the value of Polish export to the Russian market fell in relation to the analogous period of 2014 by 30% (to the amount of 123.9 million euro).
The value of exports to the Commonwealth of Independent States amounted to 1.7 billion euros and, in comparison to 2013, decreased by 22.9%. This was due mainly to lower exports due to the embargo, imposed in the first place on pork, dairy products, fruits and vegetables. When I took office at the end of 2007, at the beginning of 2008 I have conducted talks in Moscow about unlocking the embargo, which was in place at that time, I knew that we have to look for other markets. The Russian market, although comfortable and close-by, is saddled with very high risk. Therefore, I have made efforts to acquire new markets. Promotion funds helped. In the middle of 2009 we have passed a bill that set them up. We also are not stopping in negotiating the terms of accessing other markets around the world. The embargo also had, if one can say so, a positive aspect to itself. It forced Polish agri-food sector companies to speed up efforts to diversify their outlets.
These consolidated actions of the ministry and the entrepreneurs have yielded expected results. Despite a drop in agricultural exports to Russia, the total value of Polish export of agricultural commodities has reached the level of 21.3 billion euros and was 4.5% larger than in 2013. Of course, the growth dynamic was lower than that observed in previous years. However, one can safely conclude that Polish products attract a constantly growing interest among foreign customers.
Biztweet: Is the Polish sector ready for the continuing problems between Russia and the EU?
Marek Sawicki: I have mentioned this already to a certain extent. However, I would like to draw attention to the fact that in connection with the introduction of restrictions on imports of agri-food products from Poland by the Russian Federation, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, in cooperation with other ministries, has taken immediate action to acquire new outlets for Polish producers of agri-food products. Steps have also been taken in order to mitigate the effects of these restrictions and provide support for the Polish agricultural producers. Within the framework of these activities, a diplomatic offensive has been launched by the Ministry of Agriculture, which conducts intense talks with the representatives of administration and business of third countries on the access of Polish agri-food products to foreign markets.
The Chief Veterinarian Officer and the Chief Inspector for the Protection of Plants and Seed Production have intensified negotiations on determining the technical conditions of access to the markets of third countries. As a result of these actions, among others, the following have been obtained: since August 2014 - access to the Japanese market for Polish beef; since October 2014 - access to the Canadian market for fresh apples; since March 2015 - access to the Ukrainian market for pigs (wild and domestic), products and materials derived from them, their reproductive material and feeds, (with the exception of the Podlaskie Voivodeship).
Last year, the Polish agri-food industry companies participated in economic missions and international fairs in many countries: Belarus (missions and Prodexpo fair), Kazakhstan (mission and World Food Kazakhstan fair), Azerbaijan (mission), United Arab Emirates (Sial Middle East fair, Gulfood fair) as well as Algeria (mission), India (Annapoorna fair). Information and communication activities were also carried during trade fairs abroad in cities such as: Hong Kong, Mumbai, Paris, Kiev, Shanghai. Polish food was also promoted during trade exhibitions organised in Poland, including Polagra Food 2014 in Poznan, among others.
In 2015, information and promotion activities were also carried out during such fairs as Grüne Woche in Berlin, Biofach in Nuremberg, AAHAR 2015 in New Delhi,
IFE London, SIAL CHINA in Shanghai, World Food Azerbaijan.
In my opinion, the full-year effects of the Russian embargo, perceived in the scale of the whole economy can be offset in the medium term on other markets, especially on not yet used and recognised African and Asian markets. However, this does not change the fact that in several groups of agri-food products, effective redeployment of exports to markets outside Russia was not possible. This is especially true of fruits and vegetables, cheese, curd and pork, where Russia was leading among foreign recipients. In this case, the Russian embargo was a severe blow to the income of Polish producers and exporters, who generally possess small capital.
The subsequent years will show whether Polish exporters have found solid recipients of their products and whether the diversification of markets is lasting in nature. In this context, negotiations of veterinary and phytosanitary agreements with countries that may be potential customers of Polish food will be of great importance – especially with regard to the export of pork from areas of Poland without ASF and the export of apples to the Indian market.
Biztweet: What do you thing about the elections lost by the current President? What are the threats to your government?
Marek Sawicki: The special quality of democratic elections is that no one can be one hundred percent sure of winning. The new President will take office in early August. I would like to remind you that parliamentary elections in Poland will take place in autumn. The Government is working normally and fills its duties. We still have several bills to pass. The President must sign them before they come enter into force. Most of them will go to the desk of the new President.