Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Threat to farming in East Anglia

East Anglia is one of England's most productive and intensively farmed regions but it may not be producing arable crops in quantity for much longer if a report from the rural advisory service ADAS is to be believed.

Farming is the most important diffuse source of water pollution in the EU and tough new targets to reduce it have been set by the EU's framework directive on water quality. According to ADAS, the pollution from chemically intensive farming is proving highly difficult to control. Despite an overall reduction in the use of fertiliser and pesticide additives avross the region, levels of diffuse nutrient pollutants in UK waters are continuing to rise, posing a significant threat to acquatic wildlife and, in the long term, public water supplies.

The problem is particularly serious in East Anglia because of the relatively dry regional climate, which is gradually becoming drier and warmer because of global warming. This means that there is less rainwater available to dilute water contaminants.

ADAS concludes that the problem can only be addressed by significant changes in land use, including the removal of sizeable tracts of farmland from production. As much as half of the arable land in East Anglia could have to be converted into unfertilised restorative grassland or forest.

NFU sources are sceptical, however, that the problem is quite that serious, arguing that there is a get out clause that takes account of economic impact.

Doha prospects look bleak

The prospects for progress in the Doha Round trade talks are looking increasingly bleak with some analysts doubting whether a successful conclusion will be possible. The political shakeup in the Bush administration does not help. USTR Rob Portman will be leaving his job to head up Bush's budget team.

Portman was brought in by Bush 11 months ago to negotiate a successful outcome to the Doha Round. His replacement is being interpreted by some as a sign of reduced US interest in the round. His replacement, the current deputy Susan Schwab, is regarded as a knowledgeable trade lawyer but as lacking the political clout of her predecessor who was well connected in Congress.

There is concern about how far Europe can negotiate effectively given the weakness of the new government in Italy and the continuing political upheaval and uncertainty in France which faces presidential elections next year. German Chancellor Angela Merkel may be required to take a leadership role.

It is now clear that the April 30 for agreeing modalities in agriculture (i.e., hard numbers) which was set at the Hong Kong ministerial will now be missed. The only area where progress has been made is on the Blue Box where there is broad agreement that the figure at which spending would be capped could be reduced from 5 per cent to 2.5 per cent of domestic spending. But there is still an argument about whether this discipline can be made effective, e.g., by introducing commodity specific disciplines.