Monday, July 25, 2011

Not so sweet?

Warwick University's Ben Richardson takes a look at sustainability issues surounding the sugar industry: Sugar

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

What does the budget mean?

Sophia Davidova, president of the Agricultural Economics Society, offers her assessment (reproduced from the AES Newsletter):

The Communication from the European Commission on the budget for Europe 2020 is now in the public domain. Does it answer questions such as: whether the CAP budget will be consistent with the vision for future CAP developments; will the direction taken in previous CAP reforms for incremental increases in the funding of Pillar 2 be maintained or there will be a U-turn to what I call a ‘counter-modulation' towards transferring funds from Pillar 2 to Pillar 1; and to what extent will the CAP budget be maintained in real terms? These questions directly target the core justification for the CAP. But if there is no strengthening of Pillar 2, this may undermine the public value of CAP expenditure as a response to the priorities of the European citizens for ecosystem services and rural development.

The budget for the CAP for 2014-20 in 2011 prices is €372 bn, plus €15bn for research and innovation. Year on year the budget for ‘Sustainable Growth: natural resources' will decrease in real terms - by 10% from 2014 to 2020. On the other hand, expenditure on ‘Smart and inclusive growth' (including competitiveness and cohesion) will increase by 17.7%. The allocations plainly assume 2% annual inflation to maintain the budget for both Pillars 1 and 2 constant in nominal terms. The decline in the share of the total budget taken by total CAP expenditure will continue, reaching 33% in 2020 (from 39% in 2014).

It is difficult to say if this budget is a victory for the supporters of CAP and in particular Pillar 2, which recent rumours preceding the decision suggested. However, the lack of political will to rebalance funds in favour of Pillar 2 means that the EU will hardly be able to tackle the enormous rural and agri-environmental tasks ahead - unless we believe that mandatory Greening of Pillar 1 will deliver significant environmental public goods.

The budget could not be anything else than a compromise with such divergent interests amongst the EU-27. Many Member States, not just the UK, have criticised it as too generous. There will be debates on the own resource proposals, and what happens to the adjustments and rebates. It is also worth remembering that there are disagreements on the CAP budget even within the UK between government departments, and between DEFRA and the devolved administrations. Although a compromise, there is no certainty that these are the budgetary outlays that will be decided and implemented, since the European Parliament and the Council will have their say on the Commission communication. Thus, the uncertainty continues.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Real term cuts in CAP budget

Now that more information is becoming available about the CAP budget 'freeeze', it is evident that what is really envisaged are real term cuts. The envelope for the CAP post 2013 is €371.7bn in 2011 constant figures (€281.8bn of that is first pillar and €89.9bn second pillar). This compares to €417bn in the current financial perspectives. There is yet much to be decided in terms of how policy will be revised in the light of these budgetary constraints.

A system of 'reverse modulation' was envisaged whereby money could be shifted back from the second to the first pillar, but after protests by environmental lobby groups this was axed at the last minute. 30 per cent of direct support will be made contingent on adhering to greening measures that go beyond current cross-compliance requirements.

There will be a slow convergence process to address the differences in direct payments received by member states, i.e., those that have will not see it disappear immediately. The long-term aim is to ensure that all member states reach 90 per cent of the EU average, but significantly this will take account of differences in wage levels and input costs. The main beneficiaries of this approach are likely to be the Baltic States, Portugal and Romania. Poland and Bulgaria will gain only marginally.

There has been some backing down on the capping of support to major agricultural holdings which will now take account of the 'economies of scale of larger structures and the direct employment these structures generate.' How these might be measured could in itself be controversial. Any savings would be retained in national envelopes and recycled into budgetary allocations for rural development, but influential, large-scale farmers will still lobby hard on this topic.

Environmental groups took the view that the proposed measures did not represent effective steps towards ecological sustainability and a green economy.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Farmers' unions accept CAP budget proposals

Although they are concerned about particular aspects of the CAP budget proposals, such as the flexibility to transfer funds between the two pillars, farmers leaders are unsurprisingly generally satisfied with the deal against a background of fiscal austerity: Budget

Not surprisingly, farming organisations want to claim some of the credit, but much of it must go to France for a resolute defence of what it sees as its interests. It helps if the farm commissioner has strong French links and understands the French point of view.

Equally, the RSPB, as a leading spokesperson for conservation interests, is less happy. C'est la vie.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

China goes nutty

World supply and demand patterns for food are being affected by the development of a prosperous middle class, not least in China. Such developments provide challenges, but also opportunities for food producers and exporters. Moreover, in a market economy, production substitution can occur.

In China an appetite for healthier living has stoked demand for nuts, sending prices of cashews and other snacks to record levels. The trading price for cashew kernels is up more than 60 per cent from a year ago, walnuts are up 43 per cent and pecan kernels are up 38 per cent.

The Chinese have always enjoyed nuts, but the recent boom reflects a growing awareness of their health benefits. They are rich in vitamin E, oils and proteins. Walnuts are considered good for the kidney and the brain. In a country where traditional forms of medicine remain strong, recent news reports that pistachios prevent prostate cancer has triggered a rush for the nuts.

China used to be a net exporter of walnuts but is now a net importer. Imports from California doubled last year, making a small dent in the US trade deficit. Product substiution seems likely to occur with almonds, which are cheaper than most nuts, taking the place of cashews.

One must not forget that large portions of the Chinese population have Global South levels of income. On a per capita basis Chinese consumption remains low compared with developed countries but for nuts and other foods this will continue to change as the Chinese economy grows.

As far as the CAP is concerned, I must confess that I have forgotten how the support regime for nuts works. It just shows how much detail and complexity there is in the policy. I do know, however, that the Court of Auditors has criticised over payments in Spain and Greece.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Initial win for France

France has won the first round of the CAP budget negotiations with the Commission recommending that the farm budget should be frozen in real terms up to 2020, although additional provision would be made for the accession of Croatia and a €500m 'crisis intervention fund': Budget

Of course this is only the first stage in a long battle. The budget plans also assume a 5 per cent increase in the overall budget at a time of fiscal austerity and the UK has made it clear that it will oppose this increase. If it went ahead it would shrink the CAP share of the budget from 45 per cent to 38 per cent despite the total farm envelope being protected.

This budget recommendation might seem to confirm the view that French educated farm commissioner Dacian Ciolos is in the pocket of Paris. NFU president Peter Kendall recently criticised him for favouring a bucolic view of the countryside that promoted small, traditional farms (which are numerous in Romania) Mr Kendall said that Mr Ciolos had taken a 'Lark Rise to Candelford' view of agriculture which was old fashioned and shunned development.

There are concerns that the complexity of the changes proposed for the CAP and the delays which result from co-decision mean that any new package will not be brought into place by the target date of 1 January 2014. It might have to be delayed for one year.

It has become increasingly evident that the CAP in its current form will outlive me but I wonder if it will also outlive my granddaughter who starts secondary school in September.