HC Deb 17 November 1981 vol 13 cc131-2W
Mr. Parris

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what was the outcome of the Council of Agriculture Ministers meeting on 16 November; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I represented the United Kingdom at this Council under my right hon. Friend's chairmanship.

The Council considered the Commission's proposals for implementing its guidelines for agriculture under the Council of Foreign Ministers' mandate of 30 May 1980. There was considerable divergence of views. The discussion was reported to the Foreign Affairs Council which is preparing for the European Council meeting on 26–27 November.

In our view the Commission was underestimating the prospective surplus problem. We attached considerably more importance than the Commission to a strict price policy which would have regard to market circumstances and the trend of prices outside the Community. Therefore, we supported its proposal for a better balance between cereal and livestock prices and for a progressive reduction in the gap between Community and United States cereal prices. This would make the import of certain cereal substitutes used for animal feeding less attractive and avoid the pressure for restrictions on such imports. A more rigorous approach to prices should apply to other products in surplus as well as to cereals.

We agreed that price policy should be supplemented by guarantee targets for the main commodities, with reduced guarantees for production above these targets. We opposed any arrangements which discriminated between producers according to their size or intensity of production. In particular we argued against all forms of milk coresponsibility levy other than a supplementary levy on proportionate increases in producion.

On national aids, I pointed out that the Commission had not prepared comprehensive proposals as promised and I urge the need for much stricter discipline.

I stressed our view that the effect of the changes in the CAP should be to contain the growth of guarantee expenditure markedly below the increase in revenue.

The Council agreed that further work was required on the Commission's proposed changes in arrangements for Mediterranean products to prepare for the accession to the Community of Spain and Portugal. I underlined the need for a fundamental reform of the olive oil regime to deal with surplus production and the consequent budgetary problems. I rejected the suggestion that this should be accompanied by increases in the consumer costs of other oils and oilseeds.

The Council also agreed to a more detailed exploration of the possibility of long term contracts for Community exports. In common with a number of countries, we doubted the value of these arrangements and warned that no proposal for a specific negotiating mandate would be entertained until the further work had been completed.

Agreement was reached in principle on the continuation for 1982 of the Community's GATT quotas for high quality cuts of beef and veal.

The Commission reported that it had again approached the Netherlands Government without result about the unfair gas price advantage enjoyed by Dutch growers. With strong backing from other member States, I deplored the continued lack of action on a matter which was creating serious difficulties for our producers and which was bringing the Commission into disrepute. Mr. Dalsager said that the Commission would be deciding this week regarding legal action against the Dutch Government.

The Commission proposed that the minimum guaranteed price to be offered to ACP countries for their raw suger for 1981–82 should be increased by 8½ per cent. rather than 7½ per cent. and that the associated storage levy scheme should be abolished from 1 July 1981. Some countries objected to the second element. I stressed our view that the existing offer was fair and had not been adequately followed through in negotiation. Any change would have to take our refiners' interests fully and permanently into account. The proposal was referred to the special committee for agriculture.