INTERVIEW with AgriMin Daniel Constantin: 2014 European funding uptake target is 2.9 bln euros

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Our target is to attract 2.9 billion euros in European funding this year, in direct payments and rural development, and I hope that we succeed because allocations under Pillar I have increased, but we are also in the final two years of the period of the National Program for Rural Development, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Daniel Constantin declared in an interview with AGERPRES.

The Minister said that 2.7 billion euro worth of European funding has been attracted in 2013, and that the attained absorption rate is 67%, while the engagement rate is 100%.

According to the cited source, 2014 is a turning point where "we can and must intervene more in the husbandry area," an activity sector a significant part of the financial support will be directed to.

The Minister of Agriculture added that in terms of legislation, MADR has initiated no less than eight bills that are key to the sector and which the farmers had been expecting, many of them correcting certain deficiencies.

In the interview, Daniel Constantine also spoke about the situation of crops, as well as about the subsidies the farmers will receive in 2014.

AGERPRES : What are the priorities of 2014 for Romania's agri-food sector, not just those of the Ministry of Agriculture ?

Daniel Constantin: I would refer in the first place to the legislative priorities, because in the previous years, in 2012-2013, important steps have been made and many laws that started at the Ministry of Agriculture have reached the final stage these days, specifically they are about to be voted on. Of course, the most important and immediate goal these days, until February, is related to the passage of the Bill on the liberalized land market, which was initiated by the Ministry of Agriculture, although it was not the Ministry's responsibility, a bill having as an objective the enhancement of local communities and the protection of agricultural land in Romania. The bill will return to Parliament with some modifications, on some formal points, not of substance. ... Supporting the passage through Parliament of this extremely important project is a Government commitment and I am convinced that the President, who did not actually challenge the essence of the act, namely the preemption right, will quickly sign this important piece of legislation into law.

Of course, there is also the Law on the reorganization of the Ministry of Agriculture. It is the first time when the Ministry has a reorganization law that has a broader scope. First, the re-establishment of the National Agency for Mountain Areas, the existence of which was discontinued for many years and unfortunately, these areas no longer enjoy dedicated support measures. Mountain villages were depopulated, youth have left. There are a number of problems the absence of this agency have caused. Also, there is the establishment of the National Phytosanitary Agency, tasked with activities that are quite visible in agriculture, but not so much in Romania's social, political, and economic landscape; yet it is extremely important, because it is very much connected to what food security means.

Next is the National Plant Resources Agency, an agency the President challenges in his reexamination request, but which we are keen to establish, because the arguments in the examination request are not relevant, therefore we will not take them into account, at least we, as initiator Ministry. We will advocate the bill's returning to the President in exactly the same form to for promulgation.

The Mutual Fund Bill has been signed into law by the President and we now pass to the hardest part, that of implementation, of establishing an extremely important tool for Romania. Then there is the law on meadows, an act the farmers were awaiting since long, and which many ministers promised to change. And here we are, it was amended by Ordinance in 2013, we are in the final phase of voting in the Chamber of Deputies and it will be next referred to the President to come in force. It is a law expected particularly by animal breeders who do not have priority access to pastures, as they will after this act comes into force.

There is also the law that changes the provisions for the granting of the producer's certificate which will be turned into a producer's license, and there will be also a producer's record. We have a few simple reasons for this, first of all, we want those who obtain the producer's license to be the real producers, not go-betweens who use the production of other farmers; they should be the ones who work every day to obtain agricultural production and we ask the trade associations, we actually give them the opportunity to endorse these producer licenses. I equally believe that we thus eliminate the market mafia which has been lately gaining ground, enabling the market access for the real producers, the holders of producer licenses. We also establish a minimum percentage of 20% of the market stalls to be given to the holders of producer's licenses.

Last year we also had an ordinance on lending, which afterwards changed into a law. We plan to amend this law by extending the right to benefit from certain incentives to all people who want to buy farmland. Citizens can pay 10 percent only in advance, half of the difference being guaranteed by the state. This law stipulates the setting up of a lending fund, we are already organizing tenders, I hope that the winner will be declared in February and in March farmers will benefit by small loans under advantageous conditions. Small loans amounting to 15,000 euros, 25,000 euros and 75,000 euros for co-financing family farms. It is a long expected measure as the interest is much lower. There is a grace period up to three years and a 10-year credit period.

We are also trying to get the approval for a priority of 2014, namely to correct an injustice that was done to the 10,000 farmers investigated for a ruling of the Audit Court. It was actually a correct ruling as there was a minister's order issued in 2007 reading that farmers benefiting from subsidies should not have debts to the state budget. Many of them were not aware of these debts, consequently they are prosecuted. Moreover, their subsidies were withdrawn and they cannot get them for three years. This law does justice to them, we shall give the subsidies back to them and they will go on being eligible to get subsidies. I also hope that in February or in March at the latest it will be approved by Romania's Parliament.

AGERPRES: What sums of money are we referring to in the case of these farmers?

Daniel Constantin: I hope I am not mistaken, but I think they amount to 50 million lei. These are sums of money we shall give back. I would like to mention a law that has been dealt with by the Ministry of Agriculture and the approving ministries for three years if not longer, namely the law on vine and wine. It was approved by the Government, I hope that Parliament too will take measures rapidly enough as it is an important law, especially for the small and medium producers, but also for the big wine producers. So look, we have no less than 8 draft laws in the legislative field, part of them have been approved and part of them are to be approved. I think it is a record. I do not even know how many laws the ministry managed to approve last year. What matters is the fact that these many laws correct very many deficiencies and were expected by farmers at this time.

AGERPRES: I would like us to talk about the 2014 farm production and about the crops that were created in autumn. What are they like and what are the predictions of the National Meteorological Administration [ANM]?

Daniel Constantin: Indeed we must pay attention to what the weather will be like in the time to come, but considering my discussion with people working with ANM, there are no reasons for worry when it comes to big crops. I am referring to wheat and rape. Even if the temperature has been high enough during this span of time, there are no reasons to worry. Crops look good for the time being, there has been a water resource in the soil since September and October, when it rained heavily enough, but we need precipitations in the weeks to come. If the ANM predictions materialize, namely if it rains in southern Romania and snows in northern Romania starting next week, I think everything will be OK. It is true that when it comes to fruit tree growing, we must make an assessment there nationwide. There things risk degenerating if the situation goes on like that. We shall make an assessment; we have already talked with people working with ASAS [the Academy of Agricultural and Silvicultural Sciences] and on Wednesday we shall have a report referring to the evolution of the farm production nationwide.

AGERPRES: As for the absorption of European funds, what is your target for 2014 and how did you end the year 2013?

Daniel Constantin: In 2013 we pledged to draw 2.5 billion euros in European funds on the two pylons, on rural development and on direct payments, and we have already achieved this target and got 2.7 billion euros. In 2014 we have pledged to draw 2.9 billion euros in European funds. I hope we shall manage to do it as, on the one hand, the allocations on pylon I have increased, on direct payments, and, on the other hand, we are in the last two years of the 2007-2013 National Programme for Rural Development [PNDR]. There we have achieved a 67 percent absorption degree and the contracting degree topped 100 percent. These days they are signing the last contracts and we shall reach a 108 percent contracting degree for us to make sure that, in case there will be projects that will not be carried through, we shall have contracts so that we can spend all the money. It is our ambition to have PNDR with a 100 percent absorption degree. The problem we have in this field is lending and we are holding talks these very days. We must do more and I think that banks have started realizing it. I have seen international reports drawn up by banks on Romania, which say that the fields with a development potential are the IT, energy and agriculture. If they consider these reports, I am sure that lending will be much more flexible in 2014 and banks will help us more to draw European funds. It goes without saying that it is very difficult for us to manage to carry things out without the co-financing part, without a contract that should be friendly to the beneficiary and to the one that succeeded in having an eligible project on European funds. AGERPRES

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