ECONOMY

Fears for tobacco sector jobs

According to recent European Commission proposals, income support to tobacco farmers will be fully disengaged from production for those producing up to 3.5 tons annually – including 55,000 of Greece’s 60,000 growers. It is feared that many such small farmers, who will continue to receive income support, will either abandon or switch crops. In view of a scheduled special farm ministers council meeting in Luxembourg on April 21-22, the president of Greece’s Association of Tobacco Manufacturers, Nikos Allamanis, explains the reasons why his organization is opposed to the full disengagement of subsidies from production. You reacted strongly against the Commission’s proposals, unlike certain tobacco growers’ organizations. Why was this? Our opposition was not the result of narrow considerations of self-interest. We are interested in the sector’s present as well as future, which is particularly important for the national economy and rural areas. There are 60,000 growers’ families but also 10,000 families of farm workers and employees in related businesses and industries which have a total invested capital of 150 million euros. Greek tobacco exports total about 300 million euros annually. Economic and social life in many regions of Greece depends directly on tobacco cultivation, which cannot be substituted. Areas such as Komotini, Xanthi, Serres, Kilkis, Katerini, Grevena, Elassona and Agrinion will experience a severe economic rundown. It will be a disaster. As they stand today, the Commission’s proposals are certain to lead farmers to abandon cultivation. Many businesses will close, tens of thousands of jobs will be lost and the country’s trade balance will be dealt a strong blow. Some farmers think that by taking the disengaged supports and going home, they secure a kind of early retirement pension. However, the industry is a chain that supports many others before the tobacco appears as a cigarette at the kiosk. Besides, not even the disengaged supports seem to be secure for a 10-year period, as some claim. No one knows what will happen after three years, when, according to the Commission’s proposals, the common market organization of tobacco is abolished. Do you believe the Commission is aiming at phasing out tobacco cultivation in Europe? It may not admit it openly but essentially this is what it wants, for the sake of the anti-smoking campaign. This is hypocrisy. If tobacco is no longer grown in Europe, will Europeans stop smoking? Tobacco manufacturers will then simply turn to imports. Is this what they really want? What else do you object to in the Commission’s proposals? We believe they are indiscriminate. They do not distinguish at all either between varieties or where they are grown. There are varieties, such as Greek Basma or Katerini’s, which are the «salt and pepper» of all blends and are in strong demand everywhere. There are areas where tobacco cultivation, due to climate and soil, is the only option for farmers. The same measures cannot apply to all varieties and growing areas. We want cultivation to continue, both for the varieties that are in demand as well as in the areas where it is an important factor in economic and social terms. For this to happen, the greatest part of EU support today must remain linked to cultivation. They accuse you of being tight-fisted to tobacco growers while calling for the maintenance of EU support… Subsidies are an essential part of tobacco growers’ income. As regards the «tight-fisted» charges, I reject them. When our clients abroad can buy tobacco in other countries at lower prices, we have no chance of offering growers higher prices than those of the international market. The unfavorable euro/dollar parity makes the competitiveness of our tobacco even more problematic. Besides, there is the issue of quality; price and quality go together.