Baldry cautions on CAPreform moves
JUNIOR farm minister, Tony Baldry, chose to look to the future of the CAP rather than discuss the BSE crisis when he addressed the final day of the Oxford Farming Conference.
Farming in the UK and EU had enjoyed some good years recently, despite the beef crisis. While nobody should underestimate the difficulties caused by BSE, it must not be allowed to mask the fact that EU farm incomes were higher in real terms than for many years, he said. UK farm incomes had risen by about 75% between 1991 and 1995. "And early indications are that the 1995/96 figures for the European Union will show a continuing trend," added Mr Baldry.
Looking to the future, Mr Baldry said there was overwhelming support in the UK, and increasingly throughout the EU, for CAP reform. And he believed there were few British farmers who saw the preservation of the over-bureaucratic, over-regulatory CAP as the way forward. But change would also mean challenge.
Change would allow European agriculture to maintain its place in an increasingly competitive world. The pressures making change inevitable included GATT and EU expansion. GATT would constrain the EUs ability to subsidise exports in the near future, and that would be compounded by the next round of world trade talks, beginning in 1999.
"If EU farmers are to remain competitive and win the battle for market share they cannot afford to be shackled by production controls, limits on their exports, and all the bureaucratic paraphernalia of the CAP," he said. But while there was growing acceptance of the need to change, there was less agreement about its direction.
Government was determined to ensure that reforms were to the advantage of UK agricultures inherent strengths. He dismissed the suggestions of some EU member states that reform should impose progressively tighter production controls in a bid to maintain support prices.
The only sensible policies would be those that allowed improved competitiveness and greater efficiency. Government wanted progressive reduction in production-linked subsidies but at a gradual rate to allow farmers to adapt. He accepted that there may be need for transitional compensation.
• Mr Baldry said that MAFFhad paid arable area payments to 99% of claimants by the end of the year deadline compared with just 83%in 1995. Late payments in 1995 resulted in a £25,000 fine for MAFFfrom the commission