Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Green space controversy grows

The controversy over the so-called 'Green Space' in the CAP reform proposals is growing: Green Space

A somewhat embattled farm commissioner, Dacian Ciolos, is insistent that the proposals do not amount to set aside. As farm as farm organizations are concerned, if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck ...

The farm lobby is up in arms over this proposal and are citing food security arguments advanced by the G20. However, this is not a straightforward food security/productionism versus the environment argument. I am concerned that the Commission has devised a rather blunt policy instrument that would not be very effective in achieving its objectives and would have too many unintended consequences.

Admittedly some of the more subtle policy instruments in Pillar 2 have not always worked well in terms of additionality, i.e., achieving something that would not have been achieved without spending public money. Devising policy instruments that make a difference without too many side costs is not easy, but the effort needs to continue.

The linked report also refers to the enhanced role of the European Parliament in the decision-making process. This may be an advance for democracy, but not necessarily for coherent policies and effective reform.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Doha lite?

The recent G-20 summit was understandably dominated by the eurozone crisis so little attention was paid to the fact that leaders decided to effectively abandon all hopes of achieving a full blown Doha Round settlement and instead see if they could achieve a 'Doha lite'.

Many analysts think that they will achieve nothing. Either way this effectively means the end of 'Rounds' as a way of progressing international trade negotiations. Given the economic backdrop, it also means the end of further breakthroughs towards liberalisation, although the dispute settlement process could still spring some surprises, particularly in relation to agriculture.

The trend towards bilateral deals will be reinforced. Compared with a multilateral framework, such deals tend to be more asymmetrical, so this is not really a gain for the Global South, not that least developed countries got that much outof multilateral negotiations. It was agricultural exporters like Brazil that stood to benefit.

The global financial crisis has obviously shifted priorities over this issue. However, at the very least a ‘Doha-lite’ deal for developing nations will be discussed at a World Trade Organisation meeting in December this year, with an aim of reaching a consensus in time for the 2012 G20 summit in Mexico.

Will progress be possible in agriculture? The EU may stick to its promise to phase out export subsidies, although possibly later than planned given that CAP reform is likely to be delayed. However, EU is unlikely to give much more ground on market access and the US will defend politically sensitive subsidies for crops such as cotton.

It may be that a shortage of government money will now drive reform, but budgetary changes are open to fudging and they never provided as sure a pressure for reform as international trade negotiations. At the end of the day, manufacturing and service industry interests did not want to see potentially lucrative deals derailed by agriculture. These trade offs were one of the benefits of a multilateral negotiating framework.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Good objective, wrong means

Choosing the right policy instrument to achieve your policy goal is of central importance in designing and implementing an effective agricultural policy as I argued in an article in West European Politics in 2010:
Policy instruments

I am very much of the view that environmental policy needs to be embedded in the CAP, but one has to do this in a way that achieves ecological objectives without unnecessarily undermining production.

The Commission's notion of a 'balanced' rotation seems sensible on the surface. After all, farmers rotate their crops for agronomic reasons that have been understood for centuries, at least in principle.

Monocultures of wheat and oilseed rape (canola) crops have been becoming more extensive in Europe and they can have a landscape impact, although personally I quite like the yellow of oilseed rape.

Part of the Commission's motivation seems to be an idea that rotation would cut the pesticide bill, but there are other ways of doing that. It could also disproportionately hit farmers on heavy soil who rely on wheat/wheat/rape rotations.

The proposals require farmers to grow at least three different crops, with none exceeding 70 per cent of the total farm area and the third not less than 5 per cent.

Not only is this meddling in business decisions, it also could hit small farms very hard as only those below 3 hectares are excluded. Member states with many small arable farms may have something to say about this.

In the meantime the Commission really needs to send this proposal back to its Daft Ideas Department and return to the drawing board.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

The last one left standing

Last week East Malling Research kindly invited me to give the annual Amos Memorial Lecture at the research station. My theme was 'Food: Safe, Sustainable, Sufficient?' They videoed the lecture so I will post a link if it becomes available, not that I can see it going viral.

I was able to have a short tour of the station which is effectively the last horticultural research station we have in England. As the Applied Crops Research Centre, what was Warwick HRI is doing its best, but it is a shadow of its former self. There are a few post-1992 universities who do some work, but they lack economies of scale and the concentration of different kinds of expertise which allows people to bring together various forms of knowledge to solve problems.

East Malling is fortunate in the sense that its land is owned by a trust which gives it security of tenure and provides it with some income. Its centenary is approaching and an appeal for a new laboratory is to be launched.

Applied research involves identifying the problems faced by growers and farmers and working with them to provide long-term, sustainable solutions. It enables productivity to be improved but in a sustainable way. At East Malling, they are doing important work on water conservation which is going to be one of the biggest challenges for world farming in the decades ahead.

Applied research is a practical way of tackling problems of food security. Diversion of some of the money spent on the CAP for this purpose would yield substantial dividends.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Is Europe losing touch with reality?

Stefan Tangermann

Is Europe losing touch with reality? One might think so given the surprise Greek decision to hold a referendum on the austerity package. The fear of contagion is very real and if the euro is confined to a small core of northern member states, the single market project will be undermined. One of the main justifications for creating the euro was the need to avoid competitive devaluations between member states.

It also ended the nonsense of green money, now largely forgotten, but one of the more bizarre and distorting aspects of the CAP (which is saying something). Somewhere in Brussels we should have a sculpture commemorating the switchover mechanism as an awful warning.

However, it is also a question that leading agricultural economist Stefan Tangermann has posed in relation to the CAP reform proposals announced last month.

The former OECD director for trade and agriculture argues that the reform proposals do not reflect the economic realities that Europe currently finds itself in. It is unfortunate that the policy planning calendar dictates that the European Commission must make vital decisions on the CAP through to 2020 but Tangermann claims the proposals fall short of an adequate response to perhaps the biggest crisis the trading bloc has ever faced.

But he is not alone in his criticism of the reform plans. It appears that dissatisfaction with almost every aspect of the proposals is rife and MEPs were given the opportunity to vent their frustrations at the Special Committee on Agriculture (SCA) meeting in Brussels last week.

In stark contrast to farm commissioner Dacian Cioloş’ assertion that the reform proposals would simplify the various administrative mechanisms within the CAP, MEPs claimed that the European Commission’s proposals for CAP reform are costly, complex and fail to distribute fairly between member states.

Ciolos is in danger of being seen as the least effective farm commissioner since Réne Steichen who was also seen as a trojan horse for France. Like Ciolos, he was educated in France but at the end of the day he turned out to be somewhat less beholden to France than expected.

The European Parliament is also concerned about moves by national governments to cut almost €500 million from CAP spending in 2012 last week. Instead, they re-affirmed their backing for the European Commission’s draft budget plan issued in April, which proposes a 2.3 per cent CAP budget rise within a wider 5.2 per cent year-on-year increase in commitments.

This is, of course, a dangerously nonsensical proposition against the background of serious budget deficits in Europe. If there is a collapse of the eurozone it will look even more so.