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European Landowners' meeting grapples with rural support

This week Senior Policy Officer (Land Use & Enviornment, Anne Gray, attended the European Landowners’ Organisation General Assembly in Malta just ahead of Malta’s presidency of the Council of the EU.  On the agenda inevitably was the impact of Brexit on all EU countries, but also the evolution of the CAP (and for the UK the replacement policy), the new land use and forestry regulation (LULUCF), and land access and concentration issues. 

In discussions about Brexit, future Trade scenarios formed the bulk of the discussion.  Three broad scenarios were highlighted.  The first being the default of the World Trade Organisation scenario.  For most farmers this is likely to be the worst possible option given that we might expect for example beef imports from Ireland to incur an 81% trade tariff, and for beef exports from the UK to incur an 86% tariff.  Similarly high tariffs apply to other farmed commodities.  A second scenario could be total free access to EU markets, but this cannot be negotiated until after the Article 50 process is complete, which seems to make it as impossible as the first scenario.  The third scenario could be a UK bi-lateral free trade deal with the EU (which is allowed under WTO rules).  This is likely to result in some import and export tariffs, but at more management levels of around 5%.  Labour and regulation issues were also discussed, although it was recognised that eventual scenarios in these areas are likely to follow on from Trade discussions.

In terms of the evolution of rural support policy, it was reassuring for all those present to note that discussion in the UK about a framework policy to replace the CAP are centred on many of the same issues as discussions about CAP post-2020.  It is likely to make future Trade discussions easier if our rural support policies are not too far apart.  As has been reflected in Scottish Land & Estates’ members discussions, rural support policy is likely to shift after 2020 to a long-term objectives of supporting environmental outcomes from land, with productivity needing to be supported by the market price.  There is therefore a transition required towards profitable agricultural businesses that can survive without subsidy (likely transition payments focussed on profitability), but with longer-term payment for environmental outcomes to underpin this. 

Land access and concentration issues were also discussed.  Romania, Poland and other eastern member states in particular are experiencing changes in legislation which limits the extent of land ownership.  Despite new legislation in Scotland and much rhetoric over these issues, it seems in fact that eastern European countries are facing a more draconian outcome from changes there.  The ELO is to hold a dinner in December to look at these issues in more detail.

Finally the LULUCF regulation (Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry), which derives from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, was discussed.  LULUCF is effectively a greenhouse gas inventory, which asks each member state to keep a zero-sum carbon balance so that land-based activity which emits carbon is offset by other land-based activity that sequesters it.  Agricultural (emitter) and forestry (sequesterer) for example could therefore be managed in such a way that the overall balance of carbon is zero.  These accounts are to be kept at the national scale rather than the level of individual holdings.  Implementation work progresses and may or may not be directly relevant in Scotland, depending on the eventual outcome of Brexit Trade negotiations.


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