18 February 2000

EU watchdog rules for ACCS

By Donald Macphail

CAMPAIGNERS have vowed to continue fighting to prove the Assured Combinable Crops Scheme is anti-competitive, despite a European Commission ruling to the contrary.

The EU Commission directorate general for competition this week rejected a complaint by the Federation of Small Businesses against the ACCS and its sister scheme the Assured Produce Scheme.

The competition watchdog ruled that the ACCS "does not to any appreciable extent affect competition within the common market". But Bob Robertson of the Federation of Small Business, who has led a long-running campaign against the ACCS, said the commission had left the door open for renewed action.

He said: "The commission has told us the issue is still open for questioning if more evidence can be provided." He was optimistic this could be amassed and said a forthcoming case involving Dutch producers could help his action.

In the meantime Mr Robertson said the FSB may follow commission advice and pursue the case domestically through the Competition Commission.

But ACCS chairman Jonathan Tipples said the action was now, to all intents and purposes, over.

"If we do something extremely stupid which could be deemed anti-competitive then it could be re-opened. But our legal advisors say the issue is effectively closed unless something of that magnitude happens."

Mr Tipples said he thought the outcome of the complaint to Brussels would be taken into account in any review by the Competition Commission.

In a separate development, Mr Robertson has been suspended by the FSB after a threat of court action by ACCS registrar Checkmate International.

Last month Mr Robertson wrote a press release which was highly critical of Checkmate, comparing directors alleged salaries with the plight of many farmers.

The FSB is unhappy that Mr Robertson chose to criticise a specific company, but a spokesman insisted that efforts to resolve the matter with Checkmate were progressing well.

Meanwhile, the National Farmers Union Wakefield, West Yorkshire branch has called on national leadership to consider its request for the creation of a register of non-ACCS registered cereal farmers.

Members would be able to buy seed corn, fertiliser and animal foodstuffs from merchants who would be prepared to reciprocate and buy non-ACCS cereals.

Wakefield NFU vice-chairman Dick Lindley stressed that the group simply wants freedom of choice.

The ACCS predicts that 11,000 cereal farmers, responsible for 80% of the marketed crop, will sign up the scheme this year. Detractors point out that 60,000 cereal farmers operate outside the ACCS. &#42