Tihomir Jakovina, Croatia’s Minister of Agriculture, hopes the country’s efforts to meet the various criteria and standards for EU accession will serve as a future model for other aspiring member nations and assure potential investors of the quality and possibilities that abound in its food production and processing industries
To become and EU member state, a country has to meet the Copenhagen Criteria in readying itself for the adoption of European standards in a number of fields. Bearing in mind that your country has undergone an impressive evolution in the past two decades, what aspects do you believe could make you the example to follow in the region?
Over the past 20 years, as you mentioned, the Republic of Croatia has gone through an extremely turbulent time. The 90s were marked by war and the struggle for independence, and the declaration of our independence. We then also had to adjust to the market business model and undergo a complete change of our social structure.
In recent years, as part of the accession negotiations, we have committed to and for the most part harmonised with the legislation of the European Union. In relation to my Ministry, that concerns Chapters 11, 12 and 13 – the chapters on agriculture, food safety and fishery. In those areas, in the past year of my term in office this Ministry has made further steps in achieving quality adjustments to all that awaits us after July 1 2013, when we become a full member of the European Union.
The negotiations were long. They were demanding, given the fact that we have been undergoing a transformation in the agriculture and the support scheme system, as well as in the regulation of the market and the transformation and adjustment of agricultural production and its secondary industries, food and food processing, the extensions to the primary production.
It was not easy, but we did all that we had set out to do and we are entering the European Union relatively prepared. We hope that other countries in the region, which are potential candidates for the next round of enlargement, will use the Croatian experience, our technical assistance, and learn how to behave according to the rules of the European Union from our example.
As a result of EU accession, Croatia will be better positioned and will have a stronger influence in the world, and better chances for dealing with the process and consequences of globalisation. Could you comment on the benefits that EU membership will trigger for the agriculture sector of the economy?
Accession to the European Union, which is the goal of this government and the majority of the Croatian citizens, puts us in a situation whereby agriculture – as an important strategic sector not only for the economic growth in the Republic of Croatia, but also as a link to the tourism industry – is provided with additional opportunities for development, as we’ll gain a market of nearly 500 million people. The high quality products we have will also get the opportunity of entering EU markets from the large number of tourists visiting our beautiful country and discovering the delights of our food and wine selection. Another thing that I think is beneficial is the regulation of the market system and support schemes, i.e. the possibility to use significant resources from EU funds for the further development of the agricultural production and the food industry.
The process of EU accession accelerated the transition of the agricultural sector, and even prompted the adjustment of agricultural legislation and policy measures towards the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) standards. A great deal of effort has been made to achieve the international competitiveness that the EU demands. What initiatives is Croatia implementing in order to meet EU requirements and competitiveness? How will the CAP affect Croatia’s agricultural sector and, specifically, local farmers? Will it attract more foreign investment?
This government and the Ministry of Agriculture
are doing everything in order to facilitate the possibility of introducing new quality investments in Croatia. We are talking primarily about interest in greenfield investments in the production sector. We believe that it is the agriculture and food industry that is strategically extremely important in this segment and hold great opportunities.
The government is aiming to encourage investment through the removal of red tape, shorter deadlines for obtaining all the necessary permits and documentation and the like, a reduction of parafiscal levies towards the state, and good coordination between ministries, institutions and local self-government.
Specifically, in relation to agricultural production, we do not have a hyper production of food and so we will concentrate on organic and ecological production, on products which are well-known, branded and bearing labels of origin of their geographical provenance which belong to our tradition of quality and excellence wise. It is something we can offer as being the specialty of our agricultural production.
As Croatia joins the EU in 2013 and over £1 billion of EU structural funds become available to develop this market, there will be massive opportunities for UK companies and the UK has a specific focus on its agricultural sector. How can synergies in new areas of development, such as biofuels, be exploited between the two industries?
Apart from agriculture itself, my Ministry also covers forestry and water management, so the possibilities for investment of both the British investors, as well as all others who are interested in investing in Croatia are extremely extensive. Renewable energy is just one of the sectors with potential for good investments, although we are also working on enabling potential investors to recognise the opportunities in health food production, especially for products that can already be found in significant quantities in foreign markets or which are entering new markets both in EU countries and third markets – here I'm referring primarily to certain segments of products for which Croatia is already known.
Croatian tangerines are by far the best quality tangerines in Europe and the Mediterranean, and the British consumer has already recognised this fact. Then there are strawberries, various berries and apples. Every week our wines win new high scores and awards in European and worldwide competitions. As such they are increasingly found in European wine shops and on selected wine lists. Olive oil is one of the products we could be renowned.
The decree banning export of pork meat, processed meat and shells to the European Union was removed in October. Since then, producers have already started seeking their positions with products like smoked ham from Istria or Dalmatia, processed pork products – namely sausages and similar products made of meat – for which my region, Slavonia, is especially famous. And so there are very many opportunities not only for entering new markets with these products, but also for automatic investment in the food industry itself, as something that will rise the products and their production to higher levels, both quantity-wise and also in terms of quality improvement, as well as better branding, packaging and market supply.