Tuesday, July 23, 2019

The New Zealand experience of removing subsidies

Caroline Saunders, the current president of the Agricultural Economics Society, writes about the experience of removing subsidies in New Zealand in the organisation's latest newsletter.

'New Zealand famously removed all subsidies to agricultural producers as part of its post-1984 reforms. Prior to those reforms, New Zealand (NZ) had a relatively high degree of regulation throughout its economy. With a change in government in 1984 accompanied by an exchange rate crisis and a looming fiscal crisis, NZ undertook widespread liberalisation.

The pace and extent of the reform programme was impressive (Paul Dalziel, New Zealand’s economic reforms: an assessment. Review of Political Economy, 2002). In summary, NZ removed all financial controls, floated its exchange rate, undertook major privatisation of state enterprises, relaxed labour market controls, and removed most import tariffs and regulations.'

'The agriculture subsidies were relatively short lived. Until the mid-1970s, support levels were relatively low. However, the introduction of Supplementary Minimum Payments (SMPs) in 1978 – a form of deficiency payment that favoured the sheep breeding flock – followed swiftly by a raft of other measures, marked a rapid escalation in support levels. These measures included: incentives for land development; concessionary livestock valuation schemes; preferential credit for farm purchase; tax concessions; and fertiliser subsidies. Most were phased out in 1984, with some transitional arrangements persisting until 1986.'

'The main impacts were a drop in sheep production and increases in beef and dairy. Farm incomes for beef and sheep farms fluctuated from NZ$23,000 in 1983 to NZ$18,000 in 1984, NZ$34,000 in 1985 and $15,000 in 1986 before rising again to around $25,000 from 1987 to 1990. The impact of the reforms on fertiliser use was significant, since fertiliser subsidies had been in existence since 1963. Between 1986 and 1991, fertiliser use fell considerably, from around 2 million tonnes per annum, to around 1.2 million tonnes. The real value of farmland doubled from 1972 to 1982, then falling from 1982 to 1988 by 58 per cent.'

'The New Zealand experience of liberalisation of agriculture offers some useful insights. There were clear changes in land prices and production decisions in response to the changes in incentives. However, some caveats also need to be observed, notably that New Zealand had a relatively simple and short-lived support system and the removal of subsidies was accompanied by liberalisation throughout the wider economy. The impact was felt by those who had changed or bought farms during the period with subsidies, and subsequently had debt that was not sustainable after the prices fell. The changes also happened within a generation, which certainly would not be the case in the UK.'

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Friday, July 05, 2019

Why are there more GIs in Southern Europe?

Geographical Indications (GIs) can be seen as a way of giving consumers more information about the provenance of niche food products, but they can also be seen as protectionist instruments. The EU has the most GIs in the world (makes the Americans suspicious) but they are concentrated in the south of the EU.

In the Journal of Agricultural Economics Martijn Hysmans and Johan Swinnen explore this phenomenon. They set out a series of hypotheses for further testing, although some already look more likely runners than others.

Historically, GIs were first developed in the EU wine sector. 89 per cent of wine GI are to be found in the south of Europe, but southern member states also account for 70 per cent of food GIs (excluding wine).

H1 relates to better and more differentiated food in the south, but there is little evidence to support this (and see the discussion of Scotland below). There may be some evidence for H2 that more GIs are to be found in regions with low productivity, leading to protectionist lobbying. H3 is that globalisation may have an effect, although I would word it rather differently in terms of resistance to globalisation by informed consumers leading to a search for authentic local products.

H4 is that the decline of traditional protectionist instruments may lead to their substitution for new instruments. But why particularly GIs?

I found H5 and H6 on spillover effects persuasive. Economic spillover relates to the use of the knowledge and capabilities derived from the development of wine GIs. H6 relates to the political capacity to design successful lobbying strategies.

No Terroir in the Cold? But what about Scotland?

A farm on Sanday in Orkney which, as the name implies, has particularly good topsoils.

Scotland is one of the more northerly places in the EU, particularly in the Highlands and Islands. There are currently 15 GIs in Scotland. Four are cheeses and three are fish products and, of course, Scotch whisky is there. Four are from the northern isles of Orkney and Shetland, three from Orkney. Orkney has a very well organised farming community with its own farming magazine (Orkney Farmer) and was a pioneer in relation to action on the cattle disease, BDV.

One of the products from Orkney that has a GI is cheddar cheese ('Orkney Scottish Island Cheddar') which might often be regarded as a commodity product. However, the cheese has its own special method of production: Our tradition

There has been concern that Brexit might threaten the system of GIs seen as key to the success of traditional food and drink products in Scotland: Scottish Parliament. In particular, there has been concern that a future trade deal with the US might threaten GIs.

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