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Debate Opened On New Agricultural Policy For Eu - Minister Smith

The debate on the shape of the EU's Common Agricultural Policy after 2013 has now commenced. Speaking at the National Ploughing Championships, the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Mr Brendan Smith TD, said EU agriculture ministers had opened their discussion on this vitally important topic for Ireland at a meeting in the French town of Annecy, yesterday (Tuesday).

"There was general agreement on the global context in which our policy thinking must be developed" Minister Smith said, "All the ministers present were concerned about global food security, increasing environmental pressures and the impact of climate change; factors which have been reflected in recent food price volatility. In addition I pointed to the rapid change in food markets as consumers seek innovation in food production to match their changing lifestyles, while also demanding authenticity, safety and quality in the food they consume. I also drew attention to the uncertainties that arise from market instability, animal and plant disease risks and indeed policy change itself".

In this challenging context, the Minister suggested that we can at least reach two very clear conclusions: we must maintain a strong agricultural production base here in the European Union, and we must undertake food production and distribution in a manner that is sustainable in all its dimensions - economically, socially and environmentally. "Neither of these will happen of their own accord and therefore there will be a continuing need for an active, and appropriately resourced, European agricultural policy to achieve these objectives and to help our farmers and processors adapt to the new and emerging challenges."

In relation to the specific measures required to do this, Minister Smith said there were a range of ideas put forward at the Council of Ministers. Many new Member States stressed the need to rebalance EU spending in favour of the poorer members of the Union, while a small number of countries sought to significantly reduce agriculture spending. "Overall however I was heartened by the recognition by the great majority of Ministers of the need for a strong CAP after 2013," said Minister Smith. Ireland is a substantial net beneficiary from CAP spending.

The Minister said that he had stressed the importance of support for innovation and necessary structural change. He had also robustly defended the direct payments received by EU farmers."Fixed decoupled payments, not only free the farmer to produce what the market wants, but also provide a measure of income certainty which allows the farm family to plan how best to combine its on-farm and off-farm economic activity to ensure its long-term viability". The Minister said that this does not preclude limited measures to support specific regions or sectors, provided they do not distort competition.

In a theme that was picked up by many other Ministers, Minister Smith drew attention to the diversity that is now a strong characteristic of the agricultural systems of a European Union with 27 Member States. "We must maintain our common market and our common policy in the Union, but we must also allow sufficient flexibility to adapt that policy to the different needs in the various Member States and regions." The Minister cited rural development schemes, such as REPS, as an example of this approach and said this must continue.

The Minister also called for the continuation of necessary market management measures, particularly during periods of transition such as that in the dairy market, which is facing the phase-out of milk quotas.

The issue of equivalent standards in imports is critical in the context of the demands from consumers for ever-higher standards of food production. Minister Smith called on his colleagues on the Council to recognise that Europe is different; our people have clear ideas about food standards that are not shared in all other parts of the world. He said that in framing our agricultural policy for the future we must listen to what our consumers are saying. This will have to inform the nature of the policies we adopt to encourage sustainability, and will also have to play a large part in our approach to the discussion of trade issues with other countries.

Minister Smith said he had also received strong support in calling for greater simplification in CAP measures."Many of our citizens, find our agricultural policy complex and even incomprehensible. We have discussed the need for simplification a great deal in recent years and taken some useful steps. I hope we will do more in the CAP Health Check. But as we look to the longer-term, it is vital that we structure our policies in a way that makes them intelligible to both producers and taxpayers."

The Minister said discussions on the new CAP will continue in parallel with consideration of the EU budget framework for the period after 2013. He urged farmers, processors, consumers and others to become involved in this debate, and said that he was open to hearing ideas from all those with an interest in the development of our agri-food sector and in meeting the global challenges of food security and environmental sustainability.

Date Released: 24 September 2008