UK Ministers could see the amount of money they are allowed to hand out to farmers capped under World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules if a new proposal headed up by New Zealand is implemented.
Australia, Canada, Chile and Paraguay have teamed up with New Zealand to push for a fixed cap on national agricultural support ahead of the WTO’s 11th ministerial conference in Buenos Aires next month.
The proposal was worked up as a ‘more ambitious’ alternative to EU-Brazil plans which would set a cap as a percentage of a country’s agricultural production.
According to New Zealand news service Agri HQ, there was a ‘fairly good degree of support’ for the proposal when it was discussed at the WTO.
CLA director of external affairs Shane Brennan said the move was a ‘timely reminder’ WTO rules were not set in stone.
“It is not surprising New Zealand, which has a low subsidy regime, is seeking to get the WTO to intervene in other markets which do things differently”, he added.
“It does not mean they will succeed, in fact given they are in a significant minority it would seem unlikely.
“The main message to the UK government is it should not try and second guess what the WTO may or may not do in the future, but instead get on with shaping a bold new policy which will deliver what farming and wider society needs in this country.
“If it is a good policy which is well thought through it will stand up to WTO scrutiny.”
NFU Brexit director Nick von Westenholz said the union welcomed general discussions about agricultural support, but warned the UK must guard against any exceptions which would allow other countries to subsidise producers in a way which put British producers at a disadvantage.
Director of policy at NFU Scotland Jonnie Hall went further, telling Farmers Guardian any erosion of support to Scottish agriculture would be ‘hugely damaging’ to the industry.
“Rather than a reduction in overall support levels, NFU Scotland considers it a necessity to retain agricultural and rural budgets, but target the funding on actions which drive productivity and innovation as well as delivering more for the environment”, he added.