Radical CAP reform backed by Spelman

EUROPE’S agricultural policy should focus more on rewarding farmers for their efforts in improving the countryside and less on direct subsidies, Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman told industry delegates yesterday.

Speaking on the opening day of the annual Oxford Farming Conference, Mrs Spelman said that the next revision of the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy – due to take effect from 2014 and currently under negotiation – needed to be “fundamentally different”.

“The CAP continues to distort trade by maintaining high EU prices,” she said. “This gives rise to high import tariffs and the use of export subsidies to clear market surpluses, all of which undercuts production in developing countries. This is morally wrong.

“To continue as we are threatens to snuff out the transition we need towards a market that can sustain EU agriculture in the future. Moreover, the fairer allocation demanded by new member states – with which I have sympathy – threatens to entrench subsidy dependence further. This must not happen.

“We need to make the new CAP fundamentally different. It must be about the new challenges of achieving global food security and tackling and adapting to a changing climate.”

Mrs Spelman said the European Commission’s plans for CAP reform should be more ambitious, particularly in its approach to direct subsidies and in emphasising payments for farmers who delivered public goods.

“Now is the time to make very significant progress towards reducing our reliance on direct payments. Rising global demand for food and rising food prices make it possible to reduce subsidies and plan for their abolition.

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“Furthermore we should encourage innovation in the industry, and provide help with environmental measures and combating climate change. Our taxpayers have every right to expect other public goods for the subsidies they pay.”

Mrs Spelman said she wanted to work with other G20 agriculture ministers on ending export bans, such as Russia’s ban on grain exports.

“As global demand for food rises and as international food markets open up, the risk increases of wrong-headed protectionism,” she warned. “In some cases this has already happened – we just have to cast our mind back to the late summer and the ban on Russian and Ukranian grain exports.”

Mrs Spelman also indicated a change in the Government’s approach to food and farming, with more power being handed down to local level.

“Over the coming years we need to increase the competitiveness of the whole UK food chain to help secure an environmentally sustainable and healthy supply of food,” she said. “Underlying all of this is the power shift from the centre towards local organisations, putting local people back in charge – a classic example of what we mean by Big Society.

“We want to see a greater degree of trust and collaboration when developing and delivering policy. This will allow you as an industry to shape your own destiny,” she added.