by Gareth Parry, FUW Policy Communications Officer
DeSPiTe feeling like a broken record this year, we have witnessed some progress in previous weeks in regard to some of the major issues that our industry is facing and will face in the near future. Some good and some not so good, but it is positive to see some form of clarity poking through the clouds, even if there remain another 101 questions that still need to be addressed before the end of the year.
The infamous UK Agriculture Bill finally received royal Assent on November 11 and became The Agriculture Act 2020 following months of debates, discussions and ‘ping pong’ between the House of Commons and House of lords.
The new Act outlines how future support for english farmers will be delivered as we leave the eU’s Common Agricultural Policy, while also setting out legislation relating to a broad range of agricultural and rural issues of relevance to Wales and the UK.
Despite having had the most attention in relation to safeguarding Britain’s standards on food safety and animal welfare, the amendment put forward to require agricultural and food imports after Brexit to meet equivalent domestic standards was defeated.
While it may seem that the battle is lost, the war may still be won as the legal safeguards could still be incorporated into the new Trade Bill, which is still making its way through the House of lords.
instead, in response to the level of interest in ‘saving our standards’, the newly formed Trade and Agriculture Commission (TAC), which FUW
President Glyn roberts sits on, has been put on a statutory footing for the next three years, providing an extra level of security to negotiating trade deals. The TAC will be required to report to Parliament on how a new free trade agreement could impact the UK’s standards. However, this is not the red line preventing substandard food imports that farmers, environmentalists, animal right campaigners and millions of members of the general public lobbied for.
Furthermore, the Act allows the Secretary of State to provide support in england for ten areas relating primarily to the environment, and while agricultural productivity and regard for food production do appear in the legislation, there is a significant shift away from the principles that underpin the CAP when it comes to protecting incomes and rural communities.
Alongside environmental policies, the FUW Policy Department continues to urge the UK and Welsh Governments to place issues such as rural employment and the economic wellbeing of farming families and rural communities at the centre of future policy development – something it appears Scotland has done, given that Scottish farming minister Fergus ewing recently told the virtual audience at the AgriScot event that BPS support could be extended beyond 2024, and that he is personally committed to maintaining direct payments and believes it would be ‘unsustainable’ to cut all direct support because two-thirds of farmers would make a loss without it.
On a positive note
Now that the Agriculture Bill has received royal Assent, it includes a Clause which will allow for red meat levy payments to become more transparent in order to take the slaughter of Welsh livestock in england into account.
it’s now 15 years since the FUW told the radcliffe review of the levy boards that levy money paid by Welsh farmers for livestock slaughtered in england should be available to HCC, not what is now AHDB. Since then the annual losses to england of ‘Welsh’ levy money have increased by hundreds of thousands – most notably as a result of the closure of Welsh Country Foods in Geirwen and the resulting diversion of stock to english abattoirs. it is estimated that this move will return more than one million pounds from english abattoirs back to Wales and Scotland.
Until now, the three boards have worked together on a collaborative programme to support the British meat industry which more recently included the “Make it” campaign to encourage consumers to purchase red meat in an attempt to offset the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic – which was a resounding success.
Once approved by the devolved Ministers, the new scheme will enable the red meat levy to be paid based on the location where the animal was reared rather than the country of slaughter, an approach which is welcomed by the FUW and the three levy boards – AHDB, HCC and QMS.
it is believed that the new scheme will be in place by April 2021 to replace the current collaborative fund, however, the three boards plan to maintain a proportion of collaborative work going forward.
A step in the right direction
Many of you will be familiar with and will have discussed the recent Sustainable Farming and our land: Simplifying Agricultural Support consultation in your FUW County executive meetings, which proposed eleven changes to the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) and a number of major changes to the principles underpinning the rural Development Programme (rDP).
it is welcome to note that a statement made by Minister for environment, energy and rural Affairs lesley Griffiths revealed Welsh Government’s acceptance of many of the concerns that were raised in the FUW’s response, including in terms of impacts for cross border and young farmers, thanks to the hard work of our County Staff and invaluable input from members.
instead of only taking Welsh land into account for BPS and potentially disabling cross border farmers with less than 5 eligible hectares in Wales from being able to claim entitlements, Welsh Government has agreed to provide a derogation for cross border farmers so that they can rely on land they had available in other administrations in 2020.
The Young Farmer Scheme, which was originally proposed to be disabled from 2021, will also remain open for new applicants.
When it comes to the rDP proposals, the structure provided by retained eU law will now be expanded to incorporate the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 and environment (Wales) Act 2016, rather than replaced, as had originally been proposed in the consultation.
FUW members had opposed the plans to completely overhaul rural Development principles, stating that the proposed objectives were focussed on environmental outcomes to such an extent that they failed to address the economic needs of farming and rural communities.
While there remain questions to be answered and a great number of concerns regarding the development of future schemes, the announcement made by the Minister should be considered as a step in the right direction towards a framework that takes economic, social and environmental priorities into account.
Concerns from New Zealand
The Meat industry Association (MiA) of New Zealand has once again expressed concerns over decisions to split its sheep and beef meat quotas between the UK and eU after the end of the Brexit transition period – an issue they have been expressing concerns over since the UK and eU came to an agreement on the issue in 2017.
New Zealand instead wants the flexibility to switch what goes to the eU or UK within a single eU-UK quota, depending on what best suits their sales. Despite higher exports of sheep meat into the UK in recent months due to the Covid-19 pandemic, New Zealand has rarely filled their 228,000 tonne quota and therefore trade for them should not be significantly affected.
However, as part of the agreement, the UK share of New Zealand beef quota will total around 450 tonnes, a ‘commercially unviable’ and therefore useless allocation according to the MiA, given that any exports over the quota will face a 12% tariff.
The New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade say that it is seeking a continuation of current access to both markets from the beginning of next year as the current plans remove the flexibility for exporters to adapt to demand, despite plans already being put in place to prepare for trade disruptions as a result of Brexit.
On a similar vein, second round of negotiations for a UK – New Zealand trade agreement have been completed and the third round is planned for late January, notably after the end of the Brexit transition period.
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