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Belgian Agro Food Chain moves up a gear

The Belgian Agro Food Chain wants to boost its effectiveness and strength with the launch of www.supplychaininitiative.be, the partnership agreement with the FPS Economy, the reinforcement of the dispute settlement procedure, the appointment of an independent chairman of the governance group and the potential additional role of the FPS Economy based on the possible extension of the economic law.

Since 2009 the Belgian Agro Food Chain Consultation brings, on a voluntary basis, the different links of the Belgian Agro Food Chain round the table.  Its goal is the sustainable development of the Belgian Agro Food Chain within a balanced and stable framework.  In 2010 this was translated more concretely into a code of conduct for fair relations between suppliers and purchasers in the agro food chain.  In 2014, after a few modifications, the Belgian Code was recognized as equivalent by the European Supply Chain Initiative, which is of the utmost importance for our export-oriented sector.

Breaches of the code of conduct can be reported to the governance group, founded in 2010 within the Agro Food Chain consultation.  A suitable solution is actively sought for in consultation with all concerned parties.  That is why the Belgian Agro Food Chain consultation uses the “comply or explain” principle, which leaves enough room to get the full picture and search for a well-considered solution.

With the launch of www.supplychaininitiative.be, the partners of the Agro Food Chain consultation wish, in general, to make the initiative more widely known amongst the operators within the Agro Food Chain, increase the degree of affiliation and ease the dispute settlement procedure.

The code of conduct and dispute settlement procedure are regularly evaluated and adjusted.  In the light of the public debate on the agro food chain and in particular the functioning of the dispute settlement procedure, the Belgian agro food chain consultation proposes the following elements as a reinforcement:

  • The partners of the Agro Food Chain consultation will appoint an independent chairman of the governance group.  He will be the point of contact and will safeguard the settlement of disputes without being the mediator or arbitrator.
  • If a dispute cannot be settled on a “comply or explain” basis, the governance group can request the interference of an external mediator.
  • Although in principle the governance group does not interfere in individual disputes, however, the group is open to bring a broader perspective and sector expertise in the settlement of individual disputes, should commercial escalation not be sufficient.
  • The FPS Economy, department economic inspection, may possibly be the final step in the escalation procedure, after mediation and before going to court.  This will take further consultation with the Minister of Economic Affairs and the FPS Economy in order to possibly put this into practice in economic law.

The public authority provides support as an independent centre of expertise, contribution of legal expertise and supervision of and mediation between the parties.  To that end the Belgian Agro Food Chain Consultation has recently concluded a partnership agreement with the FPS Economy.

“With the governance group and the launch of the website www.supplychaininitiative.be, the Agro Food Chain consultation wishes to strengthen its role.  It is important that all links of the Belgian Agro Food Chain know each other, can negotiate in confidence and can preferably settle disputes themselves.  Moreover, all operators should find all information with regards to the functioning of the Agro Food Chain Consultation and the procedure for reporting alleged breaches in a simple and straight-forward manner”, according to Piet Vanthemsche, chairman of the Agro Food Chain Consultation.  “The support of the FPS Economy is reinforcing, the launch of the website makes the Agro Food Chain Consultation accessible to not only the sector but also all policy makers, on a European, Federal as well as Flemish level.  They also play a crucial role in a better functioning of the market”, still Vanthemsche.

“The income of farmers and horticulturists strongly depends on the market movements, the prices fluctuate, profit margins are under pressure and the negotiation position of the agricultural sector has to grow stronger”, said Kris Peeters, Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Economic Affairs of the Federal Government.  “The Agro Food Chain Consultation can boost the relations within and the collaboration between the links of the Agro Food Chain.  With the partnership agreement between the Agro Food Chain consultation and the FPS Economy, the power and effectiveness of the Agro Food Chain consultation will enhance even more.  The FPS Economy will act as an official centre of knowledge, provide legal support, and guarantee active supervision on the implementation of the rules.  This is in the interest of consumers and all concerned within the sector”, according to Peeters.

“I am very pleased that the Agro Food Chain consultation is following the suggestion to appoint an independent chairman for the settlement of disputes.  I am convinced that this is important to all links in the Agro Food Chain and that this will lead to a further enhancement of our export”, according to Geert Bourgeois, Prime Minister of the Flemish Government.

Representatives of all links of the Belgian Agro Food Chain were present at the press conference.  Each representative added a statement showing the commitment and engagement of all partners.

More information can be found in the press note.