Further radical reform of the Common Agricultural Policy must be resisted and farmers given a period of stability, at least until 2013.

Addressing the Oxford Farming Conference, Irish agriculture minister Mary Coughlan said the industry had already undergone major reform in 2000 and 2003.

“I believe that the degree to which the CAP has been reformed is frequently overlooked, often deliberately, by its critics.

“I believe that we owe it to farmers to provide a reasonable degree of policy stability so that they can develop their operations and plan for the future. We simply cannot introduce major policy reforms every three or four years.”

There were strong strategic reasons for supporting farmers and for not changing the CAP, either within the context of the 2008 “health check”, or the 2009 EU budget review, or the WTO.

“I accept the CAP health check for what it is, that is, a review of the implementation of the CAP and not major surgery,” said Mrs Coughlan.

Measures to reduce the regulatory burden should be taken quickly. There could also be a debate on policy change post-2013.

But radical change in the short term was unnecessary and undesirable.

“Against the background of the transitional process which is under way, I believe that the continuation of internal support in the form of market supports and direct payments is necessary,” she said.

“EU production should be protected from cheap imports and that all forms of export subsidies should be subject to the same disciplines and phasing out as export refunds.”

Similarly with the EU budget, heads of state had set spending levels just over a year ago for the next seven years, and these should not be tampered with. CAP spending was quite reasonable, given that the CAP is the only common EU policy, she said.

The EU should also give nothing further away as WTO negotiations resume.

Mrs Coughlan criticised those who wanted to liberalise trade to the point where EU agriculture was operating at world prices.

“The average farm size in the EU could not provide a living for a family at present world prices.”

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