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Agriculture chamber chief: No reason for our farmers to protest right now

Estonian Chamber of Agriculture and Commerce (EPKK) chair Ants Noot.
Estonian Chamber of Agriculture and Commerce (EPKK) chair Ants Noot. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

The Estonian government hasn't yet taken the kind of steps that would make the situation for farmers more difficult, and therefore farmers in Estonia currently have no reason to take to the streets in protest, Estonian Chamber of Agriculture and Commerce (EPKK) board chair Ants Noot said Monday.

"Strikes [in many other European countries] have begun based on some kind of specific decisions," Noot said in an appearance on ETV foreign affairs show "Välisilm" Monday night.

"While these various changes in many ways affect our farmers as well, currently we have no such government-level decision specifically that might be followed [by a protest]," he continued. "Maybe that's why Estonian farmers aren't on the streets."

Noot also explained that in France, Belgium and Poland, for example, but also Latvia and Lithuania, agricultural production is to a significant extent based on family farming, involving families and generations of work, and the changes taking place today have these people worried about their future.

He highlighted several different categories of issues troubling farmers, however they all have one thing in common: they reduce farmers' incomes and worsen the competitive situation.

One such example is governments' attempts to drum up additional money for the state budget, leading in some places to a reduction in farmer subsidies.

Thus the reduced VAT rate that had previously applied to fruits and vegetables in Latvia was raised, which will generate additional revenue for the country's state budget. In Germany, meanwhile, the government wants to end the discount for farmers on fiscally marked diesel fuel.

"This affects the overall competitive environment – you end up in a worse position than your neighbors," Noot acknowledged, adding that imports from third countries also stiffen overall competition as well.

Another matter altogether is the proposals in the EU arising from the green transition, which would result in more difficult production conditions for farmers. These include, for example, reductions in pesticide and chemical use, land use restrictions as well as other various environmental measures.

"These will entail additional obligations on farmers, and additional obligations typically don't come with additional benefits," the agriculture chamber chief explained.

"And some countries have also decided to commit themselves to green transition-related obligations at an accelerated pace," he continued. "In Belgium, for example, the government decided to reduce livestock farming by 30 percent in order to reduce emissions. The French, meanwhile, said 'Let's stop using pesticides altogether.' This is another set of examples that likewise impact competitiveness."

Noot highlighted that the EU's agricultural policy has been constantly changing, and that in the 1950s, when the common agricultural policy emerged, at the time it was largely aimed at increasing companies' incomes specifically, to ensure a specific level of food production and that people wouldn't go hungry.

"Today, agricultural policy is continually shifting toward the environment, so to speak, with its measures: biodiversity measures; measures in support of environmentally friendly management; animal welfare; plant health; a general improvement of the state of the natural environment," he cited as examples. "Right now it's continually shifting in that direction."

It is because of this that farmers in several countries have organized protests and blocked traffic in order make their concerns better heard – and have succeeded, Noot said.

"They likely have an impact because they're vocal," he acknowledged. "I am absolutely positive that the businesspeople themselves and business organizations have held dialogues with the government as well, but right now this voice hasn't been loud enough. A strike like this or blocking traffic with tractors or shutting down roads are of course extreme measures, which they're using in an effort to gain society's attention."

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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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