Farmers must face up to changes

It was impossible that Minister for Agriculture Joe Walsh would emerge from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) negotiations in Luxembourg to the acclaim of farmers in all sectors of the industry, and inevitably that is what transpired.

The reaction here to the radical EU farm reform was mixed, with the minister simultaneously being accused of selling-out Irish farm interests, and also of achieving the best possible results for the country.

The agreement on changes to the CAP come after three weeks of intense, and at times acrimonious, negotiations by the EU's farm ministers and signal a new regime for the 45-year-old scheme.

Obviously, the outcome of the reform talks was influenced by the World Trade Organisation talks looming in Mexico next September as the organisation has been critical of the restrictions the CAP had placed on importing food into the EU.

Overseas aid agencies, especially, have also been critical of the policy which they blamed for imposing insurmountable barriers against Third World countries.

Even the revamped CAP will bring little relief to developing countries, according to Comhlámh, which campaigns for fairer trading conditions between developed and developing countries.

What also has to be borne in mind is that the United States is far from blameless as far as fair trade is concerned and would need to show some evidence that it, too, intends to become more friendly with its world trade partners.

At home, the implications will be far-reaching and the minister has sensibly appealed to farm organisations to study the proposals and to meet him in the coming weeks to assess the details.

Mr Walsh believes he achieved a balanced deal and two prime objectives to secure the future of the CAP and to safeguard the very substantial direct payments to Irish farmers.

Both the Irish Farmers Association and the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers' Association condemned the deal, while the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers' Association welcomed it.

The IFA's John Dillon and the ICMSA's Pat O'Rourke say there will be serious cuts in dairy farm incomes, with disastrous consequences for the sector. Those concerns will have to be considered during the talks proposed by Mr Walsh, but the reality is that the industry in this country has to face up to the inevitable changes.

During the negotiations, EU farm commissioner Franz Fischler sought to substantially overhaul the incredibly huge 43 billion annual bill for subsidies paid to farmers, which accounts for half the EU budget. With the prospect of ten more countries becoming member states next year, the CAP had to be reformed because the current system would not have sustained an enlarged union.

What has emerged would seem eminently sensible to non-farming citizens of the EU who are entitled to see public money accounted for more transparently.

Most of the subsidies that reward farmers according to how much food they grow will be abolished and they will, instead, receive a single payment not linked with the amount of food produced.

However, individual countries will be able to retain the old system if there is a risk that the new system would result in land being abandoned.

Whatever flexibility is built into the new CAP must be capitalised on for the benefit, and security, of the industry here.

More in this section

News Wrap

A lunchtime summary of content highlights on the Irish Examiner website. Delivered at 1pm each day.

Sign up
Cookie Policy Privacy Policy FAQ Help Contact Us Terms and Conditions

© Irish Examiner Ltd