14 November 1997

More reforms to

come after EUs

2000 oversight

By Tony McDougal

EUROPES farmers will face further far-reaching reforms early in the next decade because the EU commission has failed to consider future World Trade Organisation constraints within its Agenda 2000 package, warns the NFU.

Giving evidence to the House of Commons agriculture select committee, union leaders said that the Commissions CAP reform plans, which would continue to provide direct payments for farmers, would set the EU on a collision course with the USA.

The US Farm Bill has already set in motion a reduction in the direct support it gives to producers. Subsidies have fallen from £5.5bn in 1996 to £4bn this year, and will be phased out altogether in 2002.

An American farm spokesman said the Clinton administration wanted the commission to remove European agricultures production incentives because they distorted free trade.

Under the GATT deal, the commission agreed to end such commodity payments (blue box) in 2003. But the Agenda 2000 livestock proposals, and to a lesser extent cereal policies, make no provision for that.

Ian Gardiner, NFU policy director, said the headage payments under the proposed CAP suckler cow and beef special premium regimes were examples where it was likely that blue box payments would continue.

The only way to tackle that issue would be to decouple support through the introduction of area payments, which would be highly contentious as it would redistribute aid between regions and cause political problems.

Tony Bailey, CLA policy adviser said the reforms would not lead to a truly decoupled system. "In the arable sector, payments will still be dependent on production. In the livestock sector, payments are made on a headage basis."

Also unhappy

Brian Mclaughlin, NFU head of countryside, told the select committee that the union was also unhappy with the commissions proposal to place a strong environmental dimension on less favoured area support.

Mr Mclaughlin said it was important the social and economic aspects of the large number of family farms were taken into consideration.

And he said the commission needed to remove its policy of "apartheid" surrounding environmental policy and rural development. "It is important that we enhance the market value of environmental land management schemes," he said.