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ACP Ministers call for accelerated and expanded banana assistance programmes

At the 98th session of the ACP Council of Ministers in December 2013, ACP ministers expressed concern at "the continued proliferation of trade agreements" granting tariff concessions to competing banana suppliers, and the delays in implementing the EU banana accompanying measures (BAM) programme, which was "undermining the expected effectiveness of these measures". Ministers highlighted "the need to address value addition and support the formulation and implementation of diversification strategies in the ACP commodity sector".

ACP ministers called on the EU to speed up disbursements under the BAM programme, including through greater use of budgetary support and to "refrain from adopting a definitive position of future support to the ACP banana sector before the results of the implementation of the BAM are known".

In this context, the ACP also called on the EU "to review the situation in the ACP banana sector, given the new risks to competitiveness as represented by the additional trade benefits proposed by the European Commission to third countries".

Ministers also called for a strengthening of ACP consultations and cooperation on banana sector issues and closer cooperation between the EC and ACP Secretariat in the development of banana sector programmes and the integrated commodity development programme.

Competitive pressures in the EU market may be compounded by the evolution of demand in major EU markets. Reports at the end of November 2013 suggested that since 2008, imports of bananas into Germany have fallen from 1,406,226 tonnes to, 1,200,000 tonnes (15%). This primarily affects non-ACP suppliers: 91% of bananas imported into Germany originate in Ecuador, Colombia and Costa Rica.

For traditional Caribbean banana exporters, the competitive situation on the EU market is only one of the challenges faced. In December 2013, FAO called for increased research and technical support to combat Black Sigatoka Disease, warning that without such support Caribbean "smallholder banana farmers were unable to shoulder the expense of fighting the disease on their own". The disease outbreak was seen as "the last straw that broke the camel's back", with the cumulative effects of repeated hurricanes, changes on the EU banana market and now outbreaks of disease resulting in banana farms being abandoned.

FAO highlighted how effective measures could be taken against the disease, citing diverse, yet successful, programmes in the Dominican Republic (using organic farming methods), Jamaica (introducing new disease-resistant varieties for non-traditional markets) and Guyana (ongoing disease response efforts) as evidence of what could be achieved if funding was available.

Not all ACP banana exporters have had the same experience of preference erosion, with reports in November 2013 indicating that banana exports from the Dominican Republic in 2013 were expected to reach 330,000 tonnes.

Press reports in December 2013 noted that an agreement had been signed for the export of Kenyan bananas to China.