Thursday, September 29, 2011

Dual blast on CAP from Court of Auditors

The Court of Auditors has delivered a dual blast at the CAP. The first report considers the £2.5bn of spending a year on agri-environmental schemes. It argues that poor design makes it difficult to assess the extent to which agri-environmental schemes achieve their goals: Agri-environmental

The Court found that objectives set by the member states were numerous and not specific enough for assessing whether or not they have been achieved. Although the environmental pressures are identified in rural development programmes, they cannot be easily used to provide a clear justification of agri-environmental payments.

There were considerable problems about the relevance and reliability of management information. In particular, very little information was available on the environmental benefits of agri-environmental payments.

The report is significant given the declared intention to 'green' the CAP in the next stage of reform.

In a report just released the Court has criticised the mechanism used by the European Commission to recover undue payments made under the EU's €55 billion-a-year Common Agricultural Policy (CAP): Recovery

The ECA found that 90 per cent of the amounts listed as recoveries in the EU's annual accounts represented reimbursements from national budgets rather than actual recoveries from CAP beneficiaries. Its report says that while this approach protects the financial interests of the EU, it diminishes the deterrent effect of recovery from beneficiaries.

Following an earlier report in 2004, changes implemented in 2006 had improved matters by providing more accurate information and greater detail on debts and recoveries at member state level. However, the system had certain shortcomings such as running the risk of encouraging the write-off of debt as early possible or reporting debt as late as possible.

There were also, not surprisingly, variations in the conduct of member states. This meant that debts were recognised at different times, reported figures were not comparable, interest was applied inconsistently and the point in time at which debts could be witten off varied significantly. All of this had a negative financial impact on the EU budget.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

OECD calls for farm subsidies to go

The OECD is arguing that currently relatively high farm prices provide a window of opportunity to scrap farm subsidies: OECD

If only it were so, but the underlying politics does not permit it. Farmers will point out that input prices have also risen and mobilise food security arguments to justify the need for subsidies. Veteran Farmers Weekly columnist David Richardson is even waving the threat of food rationing in the latest attempt to alarm politicians and consumers.

In fact the rise in commodity prices has reduced the share of farm incomes that comes from subsidies. Across the OECD countries this fell from 22 per cent in 2009 to 8 per cent in 2010. It is consistent with a long-term declining trend.

This is not because subsidies have been cut in response to the fiscal crisis, but because of a reduction in countercyclical payments. Even so the 34 OECD member countries spent $277bn last year subsidising their farmers. Subsidies account for about 9 per cent of US farmers' income, but the figure is 28 per cent in the EU.

China has jumped on the subsidies bandwagon. The amount paid out last year went up to a record $147bn, an increase of 40 per cent on the preceding year. This pushed the share of Chinese farm income drawn from subsidies to 17 per cent, near the OECD average of 18 per cent. Direct payments to grain farmers in China have been consistently increasing since their introduction in 2004.

Britain and Poland have issued a joint statement calling for CAP reform and in particular less emphasis on Pillar 1. Poland joining the reform camp is a step forward, although it is interesting that one of the stipulations is a convergence of direct payments across the EU. See more here: Poland

Friday, September 16, 2011

Sugar quotas to go

The EU is to end sugar quotas and guaranteed minimum prices in 2016. This represents a one year extension after the scheduled end to quotas to give producers more time to adjust: Sugar

It is hoped that the change will boost output and reduce prices by as much as 8.2 per cent. It will also align the EU more closely with world markets, boosting exports and reducing imports.

It has a taken a long time to reform the sugar regime, but this is another step towards a more market oriented system.

Greening element in CAP reform increased

The European Commission is proposing to increase the greening element in the CAP reform in relation to Pillar 1 measures: Greening

The proportion of farmland to be placed in ecological measures would be increased from the previously proposed 5 per cent to 7 per cent. Such features include fallow terraces, landscape features, buffer strips and afforested areas.

It is also proposed that farmers should grow a third arable crop covering at least five per cent of their farmed area. This seems to be an intervention in commercial judgments by the farmer which may not bring commensurate environmental benefits despite concerns about monocultures.

Needless to say, farming unions are not happy with these proposals which they are presenting as a threat to food security.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Farm incomes up

Farm incomes are up in the EU, but there is considerable variation across member states. EU farm incomes jumped by almost 13% last year, thanks to higher crop and milk prices, but the UK was among just seven member states to see a drop.

The biggest increases in earnings are attributed to Denmark (an astonishing 57% higher), Estonia (+46%), the Netherlands (+39%) and France (+34%). The UK, however, recorded income 6% lower than a year earlier. It should also be noted that key input prices such as fuel and fertilisers have been on an upward trend.

In the UK's case, exchange rates have been a significant factor. The 2010 statistics reflect a decline in the exchange rate at which payments through EU direct aid schemes were converted from euros to sterling. In the UK, this meant a fall in the value of the Single Payment Scheme and other payments of some 12 per cent.

Interestingly, the statistics reveal that a mere 15% of EU farmers claim 85% of CAP subsidies.

The same figures also show that farmers in general are still relying heavily on CAP subsidies – Pillar One and Pillar Two funds made up 42% of farm incomes last year, up from 39% in 2008. This shows a worrying dependence on subsidies and illustrates why it is so difficult to dismantle them or even reduce them substantially.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Farm subsidies face cut in US

There's nothing like a budget crisis for focussing the mind and it looks as if farm subsidies in the US may be facing cutbacks, even the politically well entrenched cotton subsidy: Subsidies

Quite how those pressures will play out in the tortuous EU budget process is another matter. In the US there is a direct trade off with spending on health and education. In the EU these are domestic budgetary responsibilities.

France seems confident that the existing budget can be defended, but there may well be some trimming.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Birdlife International critique greening delivery mechanisms

Birdlife International have understandably welcomed the Commission's stated intention to devote 30 per cent of Pillar 1 funding to 'greening' the CAP. They think that it could make a real difference in terms of the delivery of public goods by the CAP.

However, as always the devil is in the detail and they think that some of the proposed policy instruments are not fit for purpose. Indeed, on a scorecard they fail six of the twelve and give an 'unclear' rating to the other six.

Read their report here: Birdlife

Defra tries to revive reform coalition

Defra is trying to revive a coalition of support for radical reform of the CAP, holding meetings with Sweden and Denmark: Reform

Of course any coalition would need a broader base of support. In the past the Netherlands has joined in and at one time a particular political conjunction in Italy which no longer exists attracted their support. Liberally oriented former Communist states might also be supporters, but they will be hoping to get higher payments out of any settlement.

In any case the real obstacle to reform is the determination of France to maintain subsidy and protection. It usually has the support of Germany as part of broader political trade offs.

Of course, if the eurozone crisis deepens, as it threatens to, all bets may be off.