Lower house approves mandatory quotas on local food in supermarkets despite EU warning

Photo: Václav Plecháček / Czech Radio

The lower house of Parliament on Wednesday passed a bill that would impose a mandatory quota on local food sold in retail stores larger than 400 square metres. The bill has come under fierce criticism from EU member states which say it would create favoured trade conditions for local producers and discriminate similar imported goods. 

The controversial bill follows up on a Buy Czech campaign and aims to bolster the position of Czech producers in the largely foreign owned retail stores. The bill stipulates that shops over the size of 400 square metres will have to offer 55 percent of domestic products in selected categories, such as meat and vegetables. By 2028 the minimum quota should grow to 73 percent.

Miroslav Toman,  photo: Michaela Danelová / Czech Radio

The amendment was submitted by the far-right Freedom and Direct Democracy Party and stanchly defended by Agriculture Minister Miroslav Toman who said it would help Czech farmers and the country as a whole to become more self-sufficient in basic produce. He dismissed warnings that such a move could result in higher prices and a much smaller selection of goods.

“I do not think it will limit consumers’ choice. What it will do is help Czech farmers to sell their produce.”

Although the bill was passed thanks to support from the two ruling parties (ANO and the Social Democrats), the Communists and the Freedom and Direct Democracy Party it has divided the Czech political scene and triggered serious concern in Brussels.

The European Commission has repeatedly warned the Czech Republic against such a law pointing out that the imposition of a mandatory share of domestic food in stores would create favored trade conditions for these products and discriminate against similar imported products from member states. The European Commission moreover expressed surprise that a country with an export-dependent economy such as the Czech Republic which had actively championed the single market and profited from it would introduce such a law. And, on a warning note it concluded that the law would have to be checked in terms of compatibility with European legislation – the principles of the single market and the free movement of goods.

Tomáš Prouza,  photo: archive of Czech Radio

The bill has many critics on home ground as well. While it is supported by the Chamber of Agriculture, it is opposed by the Food Chamber, the Association of Private Farmers and the Czech Confederation of Commerce and Tourism. Tomáš Prouza, president of the Confederation of Commerce and Tourism says the whole idea of food quotas is ill-conceived.

“The bill is nonsensical, we do not even produce enough of these goods to fulfil the quotas. Moreover it will enable local producers to raise prices and pay less attention to quality. Our guess is that it could bring a 15 to 20 percent increase in the prices of fruits, vegetables and Czech meat.”

And last but not least, critics of the bill point out that the Czech prime minister would ultimately end up as one of the main beneficiaries of the quotas, since the Agrofert conglomerate which he founded and put into trust funds, but from which he still profits, puts basic food products in practically every store and supermarket in the country.