Saturday, April 30, 2011

Defra no longer in charge of CAP reform

The NFU's policy director Martin Haworth thinks that UK policy on CAP reform is no longer being driven by DEFRA. Rather the Treasury and the Home Office is in charge. Their priority is seen as being to protect the British rebate rather than British agriculture. The NFU is fighting to ensure that any deal to protect the rebate does not come at the expense of agreeing to cuts in farm support.

The NFU has been forced to give up its opposition to any 'greening' of Pillar One support and has accepted that CAP reform is likely to impose further environmental conditions on subsidy payments. The emphasis now is on ensuring that any measures are fair and achievable.

The NFU clearly considers that its stance has been undermined by that of the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) which has advocated ranking environmental mesures alongside food security in importance. NFU president Peter Kendall has described the CLA's stance as a 'noose around our neck' in the negotiations. It had made it easier for policy makers to argue that subsidy payments should be shifted from food production to the environment.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

What impact will co-decision have on CAP reform?

In an interetsing paper presented at the Agricultural Economics Society conference at Warwick University last week, Alan Greer and Tom Hind explored the possible impact of the introduction of the co-decision on CAP decision-making and reform prospects. They proceeded by setting out four scenarios:

Scenario 1 The 'conventional' view (often put forward in the media) in which the EP gains power at the expense of other institutions (assuming that there are significant points of difference).

There are two limiting factors on the ability of the EP to exercise power. First, as the lead committee ComAGRI has had very limited experience of co-decision and it has to develop positions that can command majority support across the Parliament. If its views are too close to those of the agricultural community (and the committee is more agriculturally focused than in the past), it could be challenged in the plenary, especially on environmental issues. Second, the Parliament has limited resources relative to the other institutions: the total staff of ComAGRI is around 15, plus three seconded researchers.

Scenario 2 The Council-EP axis in which the Council of Agriculture Ministers will use its expertise to work in close partnership with the EP to shape the legislation proposed by the Commission, weakening the latter. This depends on member states being able to work closely with national MEPs and the presenters argued (rightly in my view) that this scenario was not likely to develop in the next few years.

Scenario 3 The Commission-centric scenario in which the EP's resource void is filled by the Commission. The Commission would use its expertise and resources to work with the EP, using ithe role of arbitrator to facilitate agreement between the EP against the Council in order to shape the final outcome more closely to its preferences. The paper authors thought that this was the most likely scenario. The Commission had increased its displacement as a result of enlargement.

Scenario 4 'Co-indecision'. Co-decision might actually make decision-making more difficult. An average co-decision dossier takes 36 months to process. Some participants in the audience thought that this was the most likely scenario.

If that is the case, it does not bode well for reform. But any of the scenarios is likely to make the reform process more complex, slower and less radical.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

'Greening' of CAP on its way

Both Defra and the NFU think that they have lost the battle to prevent the 'greening' of the CAP: Greening .

The NFU is concerned about the impact of the proposed measures on competitiveness, but it looks as if farmers will have to comply with environmental requirements to claim their Single Farm Payment. The NFU is consequently going to re-think its tactics on this aspect of the negotiations.

The NFU also thinks that delays in putting forward formal Commission proposals means that the start of the new policy will be delayed until January with the existing policy rolled over for one more year.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Farmers' fuel tax break under threat

The concession which provides farmers with 'red' diesel at a lower rate of duty are under threat. The diesel is coloured red so that checks can see if it is being used illegally off farm.

Draft plans by the European Commission say that current EU rules that allow member states to apply a zero rate of taxation on energy used for agricultural purposes should be repealed. The objective is to allow EU tax policy to contribute to 'green growth'.

The document argues that agriculture is one of the important sectors left out of the EU's Emissions Trading Scheme. The proposal says that a carbon tax of about £20/t should be introduced to bring agriculture in line with other sectors of the economy. It also calls for an energy consumption tax.

The news has been greeted with dismay by farming organisations at a time when oil prices have been rising. The duty rate on red diesel has increased nearly fourfold over the past decade. Farmers were paying an average of 63p a litre for red diesel in February, up from 46.9p in February 2010. This still compares very well with the price paid by hauliers and motorists.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Times have changed

As farm commissioner Franz Fischler pushed through a reform of the CAP against resistance from member states. However, in an interview with Agra Focus he indicates that in the changed environment of co-decision such a strategy is no longer feasible.

Asked whether the plans put forward by current Commissioner Dacian Ciolos went far enough, Fischler commented that the plans were rather vague and went on to say, 'I accept that under the new circumstances, under the way decisions will be made in the EU with the co-decision procedure, one cannot do what we have done in the past - that is to say come forward with a big surprise, a big reform, where everybody is against this reform at the beginning. This doesn't work anymore so one has to find a different approach and in principle I think the approach of Ciolos is the right one, but how far can you go?'

Fischler is a candidate for the post of director general of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization which is perhaps not as influential as it once was and needs a strong hand at the helm to revive it.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Complete Doha Round demand reform states

The prime ministers of the nine of the more reform oriented states have called on the EU to do it all it can to conclude the Doha Round in 2011 which they term a 'make or break year'. The letter, entitled Getting Europe Growing is signed by the leaders of the UK, the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark, the leading lights of the traditional reform bloc. They are joined by the Baltic states, Poland and Finland. The absence of any southern member states is significant.

WTO trade rounds have been the most effective driver for reform of the CAP because they provide an exogenous pressure which helps to overcome internal obstacles. Manufacturing and service industry interests exert pressure when they see an agreement with benefits for them jeopradised by a failure to agree on agriculture. This is what happened in the concluding phase of the Uruguay Round.

Unfortunately for the hopes of reformers the political context has changed. The current administration in the US has not given a higher priority to trade policy and is preoccupied with coming up with a political deal that can provide an agreement on the budget. The political pressure for greater liberalisation that came in the past from agribusiness interests has weakened.

Even if the US and the EU could agree on the outlines of a deal they can no longer impose it on the other participants with some side payments. Emerging countries have become powerful players and while liberalisation suits Brazil's interests, India and China want to protect their peasant populations.