Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Mr David Roberts, Deputy Director-General, Directorate-General Agriculture, European Commission (A 42)

  I should like first to make clear the capacity in which I am responding. I am an official of the European Commission presently responsible for external trade issues relating to Agriculture. As the Commission speaks for all member states in the World Trade Organisation, I am also the Community spokesman in the current WTO negotiations on Agriculture when these take place at official level. When WTO negotiations on Agriculture take place at Ministerial level, as they did recently in Doha, Commissioner Fischler speaks for the Community.

  Clearly, the outcome of the WTO negotiations when it is reached will be relevant to the matters being studied by your Committee, as this will set out the obligations which the Community and all other members of the WTO will have to respect in their agricultural support policies. Equally clearly, however, you will recognise that as I am the Community official level negotiator I cannot provide any detailed forecast of the likely outcome. No negotiator would do that. For forecasts you must consult independent commentators outside the Commission.

  The Community's opening negotiating position is, however, a matter of public record. Like other WTO members, we set out our negotiating position in the form of a "comprehensive proposal" during the opening phase of the negotiations. All these proposals and other more detailed papers are available on the WTO website ( For convenience, however, I enclose a copy of the Community's comprehensive proposal. [1] I should stress that this is a Community paper, endorsed by 15 member states, not a Commission paper, although the Commission services were, of course, instrumental in preparing a draft from which the final paper was distilled after taking into account the views of individual member states.

  Since that proposal was submitted, the Doha Ministerial Conference has subsumed the Agricultural negotiations, which were mandated by the conclusions of the previous Round of negotiations, into a comprehensive Round of Trade negotiations, which are due to be concluded by the end of 2004. The Conference also gave general guidance on the agenda and objectives for the Agricultural negotiations. No doubt you already have a copy of the Doha declaration but I nevertheless attach a copy [not printed] of the paragraphs on agriculture. [2]

  In broad terms, this paragraph confirms existing agreed objectives for the long-term process of reforming the world trading system as regards agriculture. It points to reducing production distorting domestic support, which covers price support and production linked subsidies; reducing, with a view to eliminating all forms of export subsidies; and increasing access to markets. But the declaration states explicitly that it does not prejudge the outcome (in other words, it shows the direction of the changes but not how big these changes will be).

  The declaration gives special emphasis to the need to provide special treatment to developing countries. It also recognises that non-trade concerns covered by WTO members' proposals will have to be taken into account. You will see from the Community proposal that for us these include the two matters of concerns to your Committee, rural development and the environment. Given that these concerns have to be taken into account alongside elements like extra access and reductions in production linked support, the declaration implies an outcome under which these objectives would need to be met more by non production linked measures (Green Box measures) and less by production subsidies and price support. But the degree to which this shift would need to take place depends on the next stage of the negotiations.

  Clearly these negotiations will form part of the backdrop to the mid-term review, which is due to take place next year. But the focus has to be on what, if any, changes are needed to improve the current CAP in the light of the objective set by Agenda 2000.

  Preparation of the mid-term review falls outside my responsibilities. And, in any event, it is important to be clear that the Commission as such has not received any proposals from my Commissioner with regard to this review. There is, therefore, no Commission position on what it should propose to the Council on this subject. As soon as it does agree on proposals, the Commission will, of course, announce them but this is not foreseen until next year. Mr Fischler has, however, made a number of public statements about the sectors he envisages covering and where, at present, he foresees the need for adjustments. These statements set out his own reflections at this point in time. They only become formal Commission policy when the review and any draft policy conclusions have been completed, presented to the college of Commissioners and approved by it for presentation to the Council.

  Subject to this comment, let me summarise what he told the Agriculture Committee of the European Parliament on the mid-term review when he met them shortly after the Doha Conference. He foresaw the review covering:

    (a)  Cereals, where he pointed to a rather satisfactory current situation for most crops except rye where there is a problem of increasing stocks.

    (b)  Oilseeds, where he referred to suggestions that we should produce more soya in Europe but pointed out that, in most of Europe, conditions are more suitable for cereals. He pointed out, however, that if the Commission initiative for the incorporation of bio fuels was adopted this would create an additional incentive for EU growers and to the need to respect that condition if the so-called Blair House Agreement, which now forms part of our WTO obligations, involves a limit on the area we can support with crop specific payments.

    (c)  Beef, where he drew attention to the market disequilibrium created by the BSE crisis and the need to take into account likely reductions in our possibility to apply export subsidies.

    (d)  Milk, which he considered needed to be examined during the mid-term review given the link between this sector and the beef sector. He recalled that Heads of Government, in the context of Agenda 2000 had extended the quota regime until 2008 and agreed on price reductions starting from 2005-06. Coupled with positive market developments, this suggested a rather favourable outlook at present for market balance but we do need to take account of the impact of the kind of changes foreseen in the Doha declaration; and

    (e)  Rural Development, where he foresaw the need for a further shift of resources from market measures towards the so-called second pillar, ie essentially green box measures for promoting rural development and sustainability.

  I hope the above information will be of use to your Committee.

Mr David Roberts

Deputy Director General

Directorate-General Agriculture

European Commission

19 December 2001

1   Council of the European Union Document 13656/00 "WTO negotiations on agriculture: outline of the EC comprehensive negotiating proposal"-Conclusions of the Agriculture Council 20-21 November 2000. Back

2   Doha WTO Ministerial declaration adopted on 14 November 2001, paragraphs 13-14. Back

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