Czechs make large shops sell mostly local food

A woman buying meat from a butcher in Prague on Jan 12, 2021. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

PRAGUE (AFP) - Czech lawmakers passed an amendment Wednesday (Jan 20) ordering large shops to sell mostly Czech food as of next year, despite an expected backlash from partners in the European Union.

Under the measure, Czech food will have to account for at least 55 per cent of sales in shops with a surface area of more than 400 sqm.

The share is to gradually grow to at least 73 per cent by 2028 under the amendment proposed by the far-right Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD) movement of Tokyo-born deputy parliamentary speaker Tomio Okamura.

The quota only applies to foodstuffs that can be produced in the Czech Republic, an EU member of 10.7 million people.

The measure is controversial because EU single market rules allow for the free circulation of goods and services across the 27-member bloc.

Czech President Milos Zeman is nonetheless expected to sign the measure.

It was backed by the governing coalition parties and Communist MPs who back the minority centre-left cabinet, with 66 votes in favour and 29 against.

The Czech government comprises the centrist populist ANO (YES) movement of food, chemicals and media mogul Prime Minister Andrej Babis and the leftwing Social Democrats.

"Let's be nationalists for a bit, when it comes to food, Czech agriculture and our country," Agriculture Minister Miroslav Toman told lawmakers.

Mr Babis made his fortune with the Agrofert food, chemicals and media holding, which he has parked in trust funds to avoid conflict of interest.

But the EU and local transparency watchdogs have repeatedly accused him of still controlling the group and thus breaking EU rules in his dual role as a politician making decisions on EU agricultural subsidies and an entrepreneur raking them in.

Czech business broadsheet Hospodarske noviny said Wednesday that eight EU countries including Germany and France had slammed the quota legislation in a letter to Mr Jaroslav Faltynek, the head of the parliament's committee for agriculture.

Czech critics of the new measure have said it would help Babis's Agrofert while harming consumers by stifling competition and risking retaliation for exports.

"If other EU countries started to do the same, it would dramatically harm Czech exports," Mr Radek Spicar, deputy head of the Confederation of Industry, told AFP.

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