09 September 1997
Farm minister to tour eastern Europe

By FWi staff

JUNIOR farm minister Lord Donoughue left for a week-long tour of the Czech Republic and Hungary today in what will be the first official visit of eastern and central European countries by a UK agriculture minister.

Lord Donoughue said European Union enlargement and Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) reform would be the main topics discussed when he meets with agricultural ministers and officials from both countries.

The Czech Republic and Hungary, along with Poland, Lithuania, Romania and Cyprus, are likely to be the first countries invited to join an expanded EU – although a date for their inclusion has not yet been set.

Lord Donoughue said it was just a matter of time before eastern and central European countries were officially invited to join the EU, and therefore it was important to make “friends” with potential new members.

“Our policy is different from the previous Governments policy and because of that we will be seeking allies. Its important to establish as close a relationship as possible,” he said.

Lord Donoughue brushed aside suggestions that new member states – which have weaker currencies and large agriculture sectors – could have a detrimental impact on UK farm prices.

He said increased competition has always been a threat, but countries have to compete on quality as well as price, and he believes that UK agriculture is well suited to meet the challenge on both fronts.

The European Commission released a report last week saying fast reformers, such as the Czech Republic and Poland, could automatically be included in an expanded EU without distorting the market too much. However, slow reformers would have to go through a transition period where their prices are gradually aligned with the rest of Europes.