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Food & Ag Policy Briefing: CAP disagreement, UK-US trade deal

House Ag subcommittee divided over NRS, NIFA relocations, new IEG Policy report

There are still a number of differences of opinion between member state agriculture ministers on key elements of the proposed Common Agricultural Policy for 2020-27, making it unlikely a common position will be found before the end of June.

The June deadline was one of the priorities of the Romanian Council Presidency, but around 12 farming ministers have indicated they are not yet ready to adopt a ‘partial general approach’ on the post-2020 CAP until there is more clarity on the future budget, according to EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan.

At last week’s informal Council meeting in Bucharest, national delegates remained divided on the mandatory or voluntary application of the Farm Sustainability Tool for Nutrients (FaST), the eco-schemes for member states, and the risk management tools; an exemption of small farmers from enhanced conditionality; an increase or phase-out of coupled support; and the removal or inclusion of a €2,000 threshold for financial discipline.

At the same time, the Commission expressed misgivings about the Council Presidency’s compromise text, particularly on the file for the Strategic Plans, as it fears that the environmental ambition of its proposal will be watered down.

Also in the Romanian capital last week, the EU’s annual FI-Compass event looked at the various financial instruments for agriculture and rural development that are supported by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD).

It presented case studies that found support for investments under rural development programmes had led to the interest rate paid by farmers dropping by half, to around 2.75% from 5.5% without the financial instruments, which also guarantees 50% of the beneficiary’s collateral for the loan.

Brexit battles

Meanwhile, as Conservative Party MPs continue to compete to succeed Theresa May as the next British Prime Minister a new report suggests that the food and agriculture sector will be hardest hit by a ‘no deal’ Brexit, with industry contracting by 11% over the next 15 years.

The UK also hosted United States President Donald Trump for a 3-day state visit, during which he spoke positively about the prospects for a UK-US trade agreement.

However, that suggestion was dismissed by former European Commission official Lars Hoelgaard at the annual meeting of the British Meat Processors Association, who declared it is “just not going to happen.”

He cited US market access for chlorine-washed chicken, hormone-fed beef and GMOs as issues that are unlikely to be accepted by the UK side, while any arrangement that threatens the Good Friday Agreement will not be allowed to pass the Democrat-led House of Representatives by leader Nancy Pelosi.

Hoelgaard’s view was contested by top North American Meat Institute (NAMI) official Bill Westman, however, who urged the UK meat industry to take a positive attitude into talks and to adopt a ‘give and take’ approach.

ERS, NIFA relocations, Gene Editing

In the US, disagreement over the planned relocation by the USDA of the Economic Research Service (ERS) and National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) fell down partisan lines during a House Ag subcommittee meeting.

Democrats are critical of the plans, warning of the potential exodus of employees at both institutions with suggestions that the moves could even be part of an effort to sidestep congressional appropriators and downsize the agencies through staff attrition.

The majority of those in support of the relocations are from members representing those areas on the USDA’s new home shortlist, including Kansas City, North Carolina and Indiana.

Meanwhile, the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is proposing to overhaul its biotech rules and exempt most crops made with new gene editing techniques from regulation.

The new regime will allow APHIS to evaluate genetically engineered organisms "with greater precision than the current rule allows, ensuring oversight and risk are based on the best available science," said USDA Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs Greg Ibach. “This common sense approach will ultimately give farmers more choices in the field and consumers more choices at the grocery store.”  

While the proposal suggests the Trump administration is serious about trying to overhaul USDA's biotech regulatory framework, stakeholders may have reason to be cautious about the prospects for the plan.

APHIS has been interested in revising the GE crop rules since at least 2004 and has twice issued proposals only for the rulemakings to fizzle out.

Smart Ag report

Finally, IEG Policy subscribers can download a new special report, available as part of your subscription, titled ‘Smart Solutions for Food and Farming: A Policy Perspective’.

The report assess the new technologies that are impacting food and agriculture, from gene editing to blockchain to drones, from a policy and regulatory perspective.

To get your copy, visit the Reports section via this hyperlink, where you will find other pdfs, or download direct here.

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