Addressing the annual reception of the European Parliament, Jean Martin, president of the CIAA (Confederation of the Food and Drink Industries of the EU), called on the EC to provide a framework and policies that will increase the competitiveness of the European food industry.

"Of course the task of improving the competitiveness of our industry is primarily and essentially our task and our responsibility. And we are doing this as much as we can. However we do need a European framework and European policies which will make our own efforts more successful," Martin told the assembled MEPs.

The CIAA has examined the strengths and weaknesses of the European food industry and its global competitiveness, publishing its findings in the CIAA Benchmarking Report.

According to the CIAA, innovation is key to competitiveness. "Innovation is the lifeblood of our business: it allows us to respond to rapidly changing consumer needs. Many of our companies, including SMEs, are very innovative and on the global stage many food and drink innovations come from Europe," Martin said. However, he added that comparative figures show that the European industry spends less on R&D than its main competitors, with European manufacturers spending 0.32% of turnover, US manufacturers spending 0.4% and Japanese food companies spending 0.79%.

"We clearly have to spend more and better on R&D, ensure better dissemination of knowledge, notably among SMEs, support innovative approaches and discourage legislation that hampers innovation," Martin suggested.

The CIAA president also emphasised the importance of access to raw materials to ensure the development of the food industry. The EC has a role to play in safeguarding this, Martin said. "Where reforms have not yet bridged price gaps, compensation mechanisms like export refunds are still key for the industry's capacity to compete on a level playing field with non-EU competitors," he concluded.

Another area where the EU must support its food industry is to encourage trade through multilateral and bilateral trade agreements. "We ask EU negotiators to reach a comprehensive WTO agreement and a balanced agreement in agriculture," Martin commented.

Finally, Martin said that in order to support the development of the industry, the EU must provide "better regulation".  "The food and drink industry is one of the most regulated sectors in Europe. This explains our high expectations of better regulation.
"Let me say however that there are areas where we do welcome strict regulation: Food safety is one of them and we are very appreciative of the work which is being done by EFSA. But, and it is a big but, we have identified opportunities for improvement, simplification, streamlining of legislation. We are also demonstrating that in some areas - like nutrition labelling - responsible self-regulation can work and work much faster than regulation," Martin concluded.