MAFFhas its work cut out to beat Agenda 2000 deadline
By Jonathan Riley
MAFF has only 20 weeks left until the EU Commission deadline of Jan 1 for governments to put in place optional measures of farm support under the Agenda 2000 CAP reform.
Within that time MAFF must carry out a consultation exercise on areas such as beef extensification payments and the fine detail of the switch of hill livestock payments from a headage to area basis.
It also has to advise farmers of any decisions taken and to administer any new measures before the schemes begin on Jan 1.
NFU deputy director general Ian Gardiner said: "With the amount of work that has to be completed within this timetable things are getting very tight indeed and it is getting quite urgent that the consultation process begins."
He suggested that the consultation could begin at the end of this month. "But, even then, if we have a consultation of one month it will be at least mid-October before the government decides on how the complex schemes will be administered," he said.
The decisions will then be put into motion. Only after that can producers register for schemes like the beef extensification payment scheme, Mr Gardiner said.
"We would like to get on with the process because, although we are doing as much as we can to set out an approach, we need the governments detailed view before we can formulate a response," he said.
But he added that it was not simply a case of MAFF dragging its heels. "The EU beef management committee is still churning over issues on beef payments that will, in turn, form the basis of the governments optional measures. It has released one document to the commission, but that was handwritten and covered in scribbled amendments.
"We cannot base policy on that document because the commission may well alter the detail,"he said.
It has been known to offer an amended version that almost opposes the findings of the management committees," he added.