HC Deb 05 February 2002 vol 379 cc729-30
10. Mr. Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith)

What recent discussions he has had with his EU counterparts about the reform of the common agricultural policy in advance of enlargement. [30490]

The Minister for Europe (Peter Hain)

We frequently raise the importance of CAP reform with European Union and applicant Governments.

Mr. Lazarowicz

I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer. In those discussions, will he tell his European colleagues that it is entirely unacceptable for accession country farmers to be expected to compete with highly subsidised farmers from existing EU countries? Will he call for a level playing field for accession country farmers, which could be achieved by drastic cuts to the obscenely large CAP subsidies paid to big farmers?

Peter Hain

We agree that there must be a level playing field once the applicant countries have come fully into the EU, but transitional arrangements are inevitable in an enlargement of such dimensions, and the proposals published recently by the European Commission provide for that. There will be a transition process.

I do not think that my hon. Friend is asking for, nor will the Government support, any additional funding for the CAP, which desperately needs reform along precisely the lines that he suggests. Farmers from Britain and other members states should be able to benefit from that reform, as should applicant states when a level playing field is created following the necessary reforms.

Tony Baldry (Banbury)

Is the Minister not concerned about the fact that one accession country, Poland, receives more development aid from the European Union than the whole of Asia? Farmers will not stand a chance of escaping the chronic poverty suffered by these countries unless they are given fairer access to European markets for their agricultural produce.

This is not just a dispute between accession countries and existing member states. We shall never make progress on Africa until we reform the common agricultural policy in Europe.

Peter Hain

I agree. I just wonder why the Conservative Government of whom the hon. Gentleman was, I think, a member—certainly a supporter—did not achieve the CAP reforms which we began in 1999, and which we will carry through. They will be necessary once enlargement has taken place.

The hon. Gentleman spoke of the very high—some would say obscene—level of agricultural subsidies in the rich world, Europe included. The total is equivalent to the entire gross domestic product of sub-Saharan Africa. There is no way in which we can conquer poverty, in Africa or elsewhere, unless we get rid of those bloated subsidies and create a level playing field for the agricultural markets of the developing world as well as those in Europe.

Joyce Quin (Gateshead, East and Washington, West)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the progressive replacement of the CAP with a policy of agricultural and rural development would be much better for the different nations and regions of the European Union, and indeed the enlargement countries, than the present over-centralised, over-regulated policy? Will he press for such a change in both the enlargement negotiations and—this is very important—the "future of Europe" negotiations?

Peter Hain

Yes indeed; I agree wholeheartedly with my right hon. Friend. Let me return to the original question, and say that I think many applicant countries would benefit from considering the opportunities for agricultural rural development funding, rather than agricultural funding in the traditional CAP sense, that are available in the European Union. I think that that would help them enormously, if it took place in parallel with efforts to reform the CAP.

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