Positive start to Polish entry

INITIAL FEARS that accession to the EU would damage the interests of Polish farmers have not been realised and the impact during the first eight months has been broadly positive.

Addressing the Oxford Farming Conference, senior Polish agriculture official Waldemar Guba said before enlargement farmers were concerned about the differences in technologies, the effect on the labour and land markets and the unfairness of the accession package.

“The first months of membership show that many of these worries were not justified,” he said.

Farmers had benefited from increased trade flows both in and out of the country, extra investment in food processing, some improvement in land prices, only a moderate loss of jobs but above all, from a rapid rise in prices.

For example, since May 1, 2004 pig prices had climbed 21%, cattle 37%, poultry 32%, milk 2% and rye 6%.

Wheat prices had fallen 3%, though this was due to the very high rates seen during the drought affected year of 2003.

Mr Guba said there were still rumblings of discontent about the fairness of the accession package, with farmers receiving less than their EU-15 counterparts in direct aid.

But overall there had been a substantial increase in the level of support to Polish farmers and, importantly, in structural aid.

Restructuring would still be a slow process, said Mr Guba, though he rejected the suggestion that extra aid to Polish farmers would act as an impediment. “I believe EU accession will accelerate reform.”

The biggest problem Poland has faced since accession has been on the currency front, with the zloty appreciating strongly against the euro. This had hit export competitiveness and lowered the value of subsidies.

But CAP reform was good for Polish agriculture, he added, as it would lower the cost of implementation and give more freedom for farmers to exploit the areas where they had a natural advantage. In particular he predicted a big increase in Polish beef production.

The extensive nature of much of Polish agriculture was in tune with EU consumer demands and should be exploited by the sector, said Mr Guba.