By Philip Clarke

SIGNIFICANT changes to the EU Commissions dairy reform plans are expected by the time agreement is reached next spring.

Speaking at the recent EuroDairy 98 conference in London, EU specialist Roger Waite of Agra Facts pointed to the 1992 MacSharry reforms as evidence of the likely back-pedalling by farm ministers.

Then, the commission had called for a 3% quota cut over three years, a 15% cut in butter support prices and the introduction of a dairy cow premium. What was actually achieved was a rise in milk quota, a mere 6% price cut for butter and no payments for dairy cows.

Quota to mountain areas (tonnes)
Country Allocated quota % share of extra quota
France 305,588 29
Italy 191,060 16
Finland 176,012 15
Austria 159,884 14
Spain 165,692 14
Germany 85,256 7
UK

But there would be less room for manoeuvre with Agenda 2000, said Mr Waite. In particular, the emergence in recent weeks of the so-called “gang of four” (the UK, Denmark, Italy and Sweden) would ensure that any attempts to maintain the status quo would be resisted.

These countries were seeking a 30% cut in butter/powder prices by 2006 (instead of 15% proposed), a 4% rise in quotas, (instead of 2%), and a doubling in the proposed dairy cow premium.

Farm ministers would therefore be finalising their negotiating priorities at the turn of the year, with the Italians likely to go for extra quota, the Irish demanding increased compensation and the Germans wanting smaller price cuts.

On the subject of quotas, Mr Waite predicted “an almighty row”. While most member states approved of the 2% relaxation of quota restraints, the plan to give half of this to mountain regions would have to change.

But, while there would be arguments, Mr Waite dismissed suggestions, currently circulating in Brussels, that dairy reform could be shelved altogether, in the interests of getting agreement in the beef and cereals sectors.