Brussels, 26 March 2020 – Copa-Cogeca, FoodDrinkEurope and EuroCommerce represent the core actors in the European food supply chain: farmers and agri-cooperatives, food and drink manufacturers, and wholesale and retail distribution.
In these challenging times, our farmers and businesses strive day and night to get food and drink to all Europeans every day. We are working together, also with many other businesses in the agri-food supply chain, and with the European institutions to ensure our collective response is coordinated and effective, both in the short and long-term.
We pay tribute to all of those across society who are working tirelessly to deal with the Covid-19 public health crisis. In the food supply chain, committed people on our farms, in our factories, on the roads, and in our shops and supermarkets are giving all their energy, time, and dedication to fulfil this important mission: feeding people.
We will do all in our power to ensure our food systems continue to function sustainably and effectively throughout the health crisis and the confinement measures taken.
We emphasise that our industries and workforce must be recognised as essential to maintain our activities and ensure safe, affordable and quality food for our consumers. We ask that the borders remain open for people and for freight to fulfill this essential mission.
We offer to work with the European institutions through a structured dialogue to ensure that the response to Covid-19 is coordinated and effective, both during the crisis and in its aftermath.
Speaking today, EuroCommerce Director-General called for non-food retailers to be added to the EU list of hardest-hit sectors:
“We fully support national governments’ decisions to take urgent measures to protect all Europe’s citizens as far as possible from the spread of COVID-19. Rightly so, the focus hitherto has been to protect health and ensure access to food and other daily essentials. But we need to start looking at the economic fallout of the pandemic as well.”
In anticipating the economic consequences of the pandemic, the European Commission has produced helpful guidance and proposed measures – in their communication last week (COM (2020) 112) on the response to COVID-19 – to help the EU economy overcome the substantial disruption and damage. The communication was, however, written before a large number of member states imposed severe restrictions on the opening of shops selling non-food items, and therefore did not include it in those sectors it identified as being hard hit.
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The following statement was issued today on behalf of the European retail and wholesale sector by Christian Verschueren, Director-General of EuroCommerce:
First, I want to pay tribute to the 29 million people working in our sector, who have been working extra hours and giving up holidays to make sure that customers receive the service they need in these exceptional times. Retailers and wholesalers have been working with all parts of the supply chain to ensure that there are adequate supplies of the things European citizens need every day.
Second, coming into contact daily with millions of customers, we have taken a wide range of steps to support public authorities in seeking to minimise the risk of infection to customers and to our own staff. We are cooperating with and supporting all public authorities – at European, national and local level, in the measures they are taking to limit the spread of the virus. We are calling on our social partners to cooperate with us in protecting our employees.
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EuroCommerce Director-General Christian Verschueren commented today on the publication of an Ernst & Young study for the European Commission on the effectiveness of the Interchange Fee Regulation (IFR) and the launch of its own report on retailers’ on-the-ground experience of the IFR’s application:
“We are pleased to see that the EY study shows that the Commission was right to place a cap on interchange fees for credit and debit cards, and that this is working. Card fees place a major burden on small retailers and are reflected in the prices they have to ask consumers to pay. With strong competition and low margins, retailers have passed on the benefit of lower fees to consumers. But we face very significant rises in other card fees which are not as yet covered by the regulation. Today we are providing evidence of this unhelpful trend in our report and are asking that the Regulation be revised to fix this.”
EuroCommerce Narrative on Retail and Wholesale in a changing world…
The world is changing rapidly. Retailers and wholesalers have repeatedly shown how resilient and adaptive they are, and are moving ahead with embracing this change, providing value to customers, suppliers, and society at large. This great story is worth telling – both to the sector and to the wider world. And the story needs to say clearly what we want from the EU and from national governments to make our sector sustainably competitive.
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Responding to the Commission Circular Economy Action Plan published today, EuroCommerce Director-General Christian Verschueren underlined the retail and wholesale sector’s support for the plan’s objective of for speeding up the transition to a circular economy:
“We applaud Europe’s leadership in responding to urgent and global environmental pressures and scarcity of resources. Retailers and wholesalers are already showing their commitment to circularity and working with suppliers on many fronts - redesigning their own-brand packaging to ensure more recyclability, launching new business models such as repair and re-use of furniture, or renting electronic devices. These and many other activities are part of shift to a products-as-a -service business model. And consumers are responding to this positively, creating a virtuous circle of demand for sustainable, repairable and more recyclable products.”
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Commenting today on the Commission package of the Industrial Strategy, strengthening the single market and on SMEs, EuroCommerce Director-General welcomed the concrete steps proposed, but added some thoughts on how to ensure that the Commission ideas were successful in making the whole EU economy globally competitive:
“We strongly support the objectives of Commissioner Breton’s proactive approach in all of the Commission communications released today. We would counsel implementing them in a way which ensures that the whole EU economy and society benefits. Services represent over 70% of EU’s GDP, and services and manufacturing are increasingly difficult to distinguish. The EU needs the ‘two sides’ of industry to be competitive, and being competitive internationally means being competitive at home, and not forgetting that it is consumers who ultimately determine the success of any industry. This can also only work by focussing, as the separate Commission communication does, on helping SMEs, who make up 99% of our sector, thrive.”
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The second European Retail Day, a joint initiative of EuroCommerce, Euro Coop, the European Retail Round Table and Independent Retail Europe, which is being held in Brussels today, heard from a range of leading retail representatives, policymakers and civil society about priorities for policy and other initiatives in these early months of the new European Commission and Parliament.
The conference focused on digitalisation and sustainability two central themes for the retail sector in Europe. These also make up two major parts of the Commission’s plans for the EU legislative programme over the next 5 years. The conference debated how EU and national policymakers should pursue these objectives, the impact on a rapidly-changing the retail sector and what this will mean for consumers and their purchasing decisions.
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EuroCommerce today launched its report “Wholesale at the Centre of Europe’s Economy” setting out wholesalers’ key contribution to making the European economy work. The report describes the very diverse roles of wholesalers across a wide range of sectors and the challenges they face. It also points to a number of priorities for policy action which can serve to address these.
Wholesale is a key contributor to Europe’s economy. Nearly 2 million companies are wholesale businesses providing quality work to 11 million Europeans, making up 5% of total EU employment, and generating together €660 billion value-added.
Wholesalers play an important role in the value chain, providing a vital link between producer and retailer, along with a wide range of services to business. Wholesale is constantly changing, and embracing the challenges of digitalisation, sustainability, and developing employee skills. Wholesalers are overwhelmingly SMEs, and 91% are micro-businesses with less 10 employees. They need a policy framework at European level that will minimise the regulatory burden and help them thrive.
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EuroCommerce Director-General Christian Verschueren, speaking on the launch of the European Digital Strategy by Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager and Commissioner Thierry Breton, underlined the many positive elements in the Commission communication:
“Our sector has been using digital technologies and artificial intelligence (AI) to make sure that consumers have the products they want at the right time while making their operations more efficient and offering better services. It is welcome that the Commission proposes an approach which both builds up consumer trust and also promotes the development and application of new technologies. It is also beneficial that their white paper on AI looks to a differentiated approach to rules on the application of AI depending on the degree of risk involved. It is clear that an AI system predicting what goods to order according to the weather holds fewer risks for citizens than an application process for personal medical data.”
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EuroCommerce Director-General Christian Verschueren commented today on the approval by the European Parliament of the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (FTA).
“We have been pushing for a free trade agreement with Vietnam for many years, and are delighted at the European Parliament’s decision to approve the deal. With its liberalisation of tariffs and deepening of business links the agreement offers real opportunities for European businesses – granting exporters access to a strong emerging market of close to 100 million people, and offers EU importers and consumers new opportunities in a sustainable and responsible source of quality products. With the commitments made by Vietnam, the agreement will also reinforce the improvements already made to conditions for Vietnamese workers.”
The EU-Vietnam FTA will eliminate over 99% of the tariffs at present in force. Vietnam will liberalise 65% of import duties on EU exports to Vietnam at entry into force of the agreement, with the remainder of duties on, for example, dairy products and wines and spirits, being eliminated over a 5-10-year period. EU duties will be eliminated over the next 7 years.
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Speaking today in Athens at the Future of Retail conference attended by 700 Greek retailers and organised by the Hellenic Chamber of Commerce and Entrepreneurship, ESEE, a leading member of EuroCommerce, Director-General Christian Verschueren identified the key trends set to shape European Retail now and in the future.
- The Digital Transformation and changing face of retail and wholesale
- A “difficult Europe”, marked by slow economic recovery and growing protectionism in and outside Europe
- Global imperatives on healthy living, sustainability and shifts in jobs and skills.