Opinion: Renegotiating the WTO agreement on agriculture: biodiversity and agricultural policy reform at a crossroads?

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The notion that the future of farmland bird populations in the UK might be closely linked to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) negotiations in Cancun, Mexico, may seem fanciful. Nevertheless, there is a very direct link between many of the proposals under discussion in the agricultural strand of the WTO negotiations and the reorientation of EC farm subsidies to promote environmentally friendly farming and wildlife. European agriculture policy operates within the constraints of the WTO rules, especially those in the 1994 Uruguay Round Agreement on Agriculture (URAA), which seeks to limit the trade-distorting effects of public financial support for agricultural producers. Moves in the Mid-term Review of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), finalised at Luxembourg in June 2003, to decouple farm subsidies from production, and to reorientate farm support towards environmental stewardship and animal welfare, will have a direct impact on the delivery of environmental protection measures in the British countryside. Two issues merit further examination. Do the changes to the CAP go far enough to provide the boost for wildlife management claimed? And are the new CAP rules compliant with WTO legal disciplines and likely to be acceptable to our trading partners?

CAP REFORM, DECOUPLING AND BIODIVERSITY

One of the explicit objectives of the Mid-term Review was to ‘help to better defend the CAP in the WTO’.1 To this end, the policy document issued by the European Commission in July 2002 envisaged that all direct payments under, inter alia, the common organisation of the market in cereals, beef, veal, sheep meat and goat meat would be decoupled from production as from 1 January 2004. It also envisaged that direct payments under the common organisation of the market in milk and milk products would follow suit as from 1 July 2005.

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