By Jose María Pozancos, Director of FEPEX
The sector's challenges in 2019 affect different areas of activity. I will focus on those that I consider most important, taking into account the forum in which we find ourselves: FRUIT ATTRACTION NEWS, which has become one of the main communication tools between the fair, exhibitors and visitors.In the productive sphere, our main challenge is to achieve a competitive and environmentally sustainable production, adapted to a future CAP that is still being worked on in the European Parliament, with that work set to resume after the European elections in May. In terms of commercial policy, I would say the main challenges are the UK's exit from the EU and truly opening new markets.
In the field of production, FEPEX is committed to bolstering the strengths that have typically characterized this sector, such as the diversity of supply, productive regions and structures, as well as the breadth of marketing schedules, which allows for a permanent presence in all markets It is important to continue strengthening the productive and commercial fabric, and, given the context of climate change, we are committed to promoting sustainable development and contributing to an efficient management of natural resources, especially water and soil. In this sense, we demand a national agreement on water, with the greatest possible territorial consensus, that ensures productive activity and employment in all regions.
The challenge is to make the improvement of competitiveness and environmental sustainability, which implies higher production costs, compatible with an Agrarian Policy according to which the economic operators that make up the industry must all contribute do their part to fulfil the commitments of the EU in the Paris Agreement on climate change. To achieve this, and in a context characterized by market globalization, generalizing the application of new technologies that enable increased yields and productivity, maximizing knowledge transfer and innovation, is a priority. To this end, it is also a priority to achieve an effective investment financing policy that contributes to achieving the goal of improving competitiveness and simultaneously applying the EU's environmental policy.
In 2019, the challenge is also to improve the social perception of the reality of the fruit and vegetable sector, and its contribution to social and economic sustainability, as well as to environmental sustainability, in order to respond to the demands of citizens. It is therefore likewise a priority to improve the knowledge and perception that consumers have of the production methods applied by farmers and the high standards of quality and food safety achieved, and their significant contribution to maintaining a healthy diet based on the supply of an extremely diverse and permanent array of products at an affordable cost, responding simultaneously to the growing demand of consumers, that is, of society as a whole, for both nutrition and social action for the climate.
In terms of markets, Brexit has generated profound uncertainty in the sector, since the United Kingdom is the third export destination of Spanish fruit and vegetables, totalling 1,766 million euros in 2018, 3% more than in 2017. Arriving at 12 April without an exit agreement with the EU would mean significant changes in the way exports to that country would happen. The contingency plans that the companies are preparing could be insufficient to deal with market disturbances, which is why we believe it is essential that the relevant administrations adopt effective contingency plans to prevent customs formalities and border controls from adversely affecting European fruit and vegetable sales.
The opening of new markets is one of the historical challenges yet to be overcome. The EU continues to be the natural market of the Spanish sector, with 94% of exports in 2018, while sales outside Europe fell by 10% to 534 million euros, hampered by existing tariff and phytosanitary barriers to entry into large group of third countries, according to FEPEX, despite the potential of the existing market. FRUIT ATTRACTION is a clear example of this reality. In 2018, the majority of the international companies in attendance were from the Netherlands, Italy, Poland and Greece. The strong growth of France was also a highlight. 29.1% of the visitors, however, came from non-European countries, which reflects the level of interest and the potential that exists outside of Europe, as we have observed in the case of Canada, a country to which exports have grown strongly after the the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with the EU came into force. Exports to Canada, which was a guest country at the fair last year, grew by 36% in 2018, becoming the foremost non-European destination for Spanish exports.
In the flowers and live plants industry, which is also part of FEPEX, in 2019 we propose to continue promoting exports, which grew by 12% in 2018, totalling 407 million euros. The Flower and Garden Attraction space will thus have a fundamental role to play to achieve this goal.