Rebecca Evans, Deputy Minister for Farming and Food
I attended the European Union (EU) Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Brussels on Monday 16 November as part of the UK Ministerial Delegation. I took part in the usual pre-Council briefing meetings with colleagues where I set out the issues important to Wales.
On this occasion, George Eustice MP, Minister of State at Defra and Dr Aileen McLeod MSP, Environment Minister, Scottish Government were present.
The discussion by Ministers at Council included an exchange of views on the state of play of the simplification of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). The Welsh Government’s position remains that we would like to see the simplification agenda go further and at a greater pace. I joined the UK Government in encouraging the Commission to consider whether the current complex system is the best way of achieving our intended objectives of compliance and correct funding. In particular, I made the case to colleagues that more national discretion should be given in terms of how we deal with Ecological Focus Areas, and that tolerance rates for EID tags should be introduced to allow for technical errors. While the Welsh Government is disappointed that the Commission will not now review the Greening rules until next year; we welcome Commissioner Hogan’s open mind on the need for greater flexibility, and his determination to drive the simplification agenda forward.
Ministers were also briefed by the European Commission on international agricultural markets and trade issues. World demand for agricultural products continues to rise, driven by global population growth and the increase of average incomes resulting in the diversification of consumption towards more animal products. The EU remains the top world exporter and importer of agri-food products, despite the negative effects of the Russian ban and Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS)-related barriers. The EU continues to take action to compensate these effects by seeking to increase exports to other destinations and alternative markets.
Alongside Commission efforts, the Welsh Government will continue to work towards gaining access to markets in the USA, China and elsewhere. I am pleased that Hybu Cig Cymru (HCC) has been successful in helping to open up new export markets across Europe as well as the Middle and Far East, Scandinavia and Canada, and HCC’s programme of work will ensure that Welsh red meat maintains a strong presence in key overseas markets. I am also pleased that the Lamb Reflection Group announced by Commissioner Hogan at the Royal Welsh Show this year has begun its work. I directly made the case to the Commissioner for Welsh membership on this group, and HCC have taken on that role.
Ministers also discussed the work being undertaken on the EU-US Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) to open up the US market for EU producers. I reminded colleagues that I continue to seek assurances from the UK Government and EU institutions that any deal negotiated will not reduce the level of food, health, environmental or labour standards in Wales, and will in no way diminish the value of our Protected Food Name status.
The Council also considered the implementation of the package of market support measures presented to Ministers in September. Those measures were intended to respond to cash-flow difficulties faced by farmers, stabilise markets and address the functioning of the supply chain, in the context of the difficult situation of several agricultural sectors at the time. Wales’ dairy industry has been hit hard through a combination of the Russian import ban, currency exchange rates and over-supply in global markets. In response to this I have been working to present the case for Welsh farmers to the EU and I was pleased that these efforts culminated in an EU aid package of support which sees an average payment of around £1,800 per farm in Wales. These payments have already started arriving in Welsh farmers’ bank accounts.
Finally, Council discussed the future of the sugar sector in the EU. I reminded UK Ministerial colleagues that Wales was the first Fair Trade Nation, and argued that transition to a post-quota market must also consider the needs of fair trade farmers in developing countries. I informed colleagues of a meeting that the First Minister and I had with Fair Trade Wales where we heard their concerns about the end of quotas in 2017 and their request that the EU should convene a new initiative to bring together government, business and civil society to jointly fund and deliver programmes to support sugar cane farming communities through the period ahead.