Martin Wolf (“Taking back control clearly includes the right to be stupid”, February 22) is putting the cart before the horse, missing the ways in which domestic agricultural policies are developing for life outside the EU.
Disentangling farming, a sector of small family businesses supplying the downstream food industries, from 46 years within the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy in ways that improve productivity and land management is a large task with major changes to be managed well. The removal now of tariffs on temperate foods is not the best answer for the long run and a serious risk in the short run with less in it for the consumer than might appear.
He mentions the CAP’s area subsidies rewarding the occupation of farmland but overlooks the declaration in England and Wales of post-Brexit policies to phase these payments out completely in favour of direct productivity policies and “public money for public goods” — very largely environmental enhancement. The Welsh consultation paper called this a “something for something” land management policy.
If handled well, that would be a powerful driver of managed change for farming and ease the evolution of policy. With the share that area payments form of average net income for the historically supported parts of farming, the changes that many will make in reaction to their phasing out can prepare for the potential impact of tariff reductions with their more pronounced sectoral effects.
With the historically unsupported sectors already, overall, more commercially founded, there are important potential gains from what is now proposed while retaining the negotiating capital of tariffs for future trade liberalisation.
Reducing tariffs on temperate foods now risks the political process then locking in subsidised support as a counter balance to the shocks. Neither that nor not reacting to those shocks would be a better answer than the one on the table.
The choice of policy tool does depend on the intended outcome but the plans in England and Wales can manage transition further and more successfully down a road of improved productivity and the land management and environment outcomes that are linked to agricultural activity than Mr Wolf has recognised.
Secretary and Adviser, The Central Association of Agricultural Valuers, Longhope, Gloucestershire, UK
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