The former Minister of Agricultural Policies, currently number one of the Agriculture Commission in Strasburg, talks about the post-2013 Common Agricultural Policy, between negotiation difficulties and challenges to be grasped. Beginning with aspects associated with food safety by way of efforts to stabilise volatile prices. This is why Paolo De Castro suggests that the global challenge for competitiveness and agro-food output should see 'the Common Agricultural Policy and the Farm Bill in the United States coordinated as far as possible'. On a European scale, De Castro also hopes for the most coordination possible in fiscal and tax terms 'to safeguard markets'.
Verona, 19 January 2012. The President of the Agriculture Commission of the European Parliament, Paolo De Castro, will attend the inaugural convention of the 110th edition of Fieragricola, the important international exhibition dedicated to the primary sector scheduled next 2-5 February (www.fieragricola.it).
The topic of the Inauguration Convention at Fieragricola, which will be attended among others by the Minister for Agricultural Policies, Mario Catania, and the Director General of the European Commission for Agriculture, José Manuel Silva Rodriguez, will be 'Towards the new Common Agricultural Policy: prospects, challenges and opportunities for sustainable agriculture' (Palaexpo, Verdi Auditorium, Thursday 2 February, 11.00 am).
We asked Hon. De Castro, the former Italian minister for Agricultural and Agro-Food Policies, a number of questions in order to understand - first and foremost - what the Common Agricultural Policy might be like after 2013, following the reform proposal officially illustrated last 12 October by the European Commissioner, Dacian Ciolos.
The priorities that must absolutely be borne in mind in the course of this year of negotiations, according to De Castro, include objectives such as food safety and increase sustainable production, as well as better synergy with the US Farm Bill. At the same time as seeking to reduce a characteristic phenomenon of recent years: volatility on markets. And bearing in mind an undeniable value, that is that 'the CAP has and still represents the most important economic policy implemented by the EU in its 50 year history, is one of the most significant elements in the unification process and the most important bonding factor for Europe'.
The future of Europe, in short, is closely linked with agriculture but not as young as growth trends for new generations in the USA. 'Europe,' De Castro points out, 'with only 8% of agriculturists under 35 years of age and four and a half millions over 65 years who will stop work by 2020, is significantly behind trends in the USA,' where over the next few years there will be about 100 thousand new agricultural entrepreneurs aged between 20 and 30 years.
We are pleased to publish below the interview with De Castro.
The CAP reform proposal, presented by Commissioner Dacian Ciolos last 12 October, aroused a great deal of perplexity, and not only in Italy. What are the positive aspects of the reform proposal for member states? And which ones should be discussed again and modifed?
'European agriculturists, like those in the rest of the world, have to deal with a completely new context: even developed areas are seeing the return of the food security and scarcity concerns. Markets are affected by volatility destined in the future to become a systematic phenomenon and our food supply system will be severely put to the test over the next few years. In this context, the 600 and more pages in the proposed regulations presented by the EU Executive last 12 October seem to be extremely remote. Certainly, the proposal for the new Common Agricultural Policy may be a good starting point but efforts in coming months must focus first and foremost on the need to promote production in order to update the contents of the reform in line with the changing conditions of the overall scenario.'
Will current possibilities among member states for managing portions of EU funds tailored to the needs of individual countries be modified?
'We will have to work to make the agricultural policy of the future simpler and more flexible, as well as the introduction of measures to tackle crisis situations that, unfortunately, have negatively characterised markets and sectors in recent years. In this context, member states will be able to manage some of the resources independently in relation to individual requirements. An instrument contemplated on the reform proposal but which must be made even more effective in terms of operation and supported by sufficient financial resources to contrast increasingly recurrent emergencies.'
Next February sees the launch of the process to redefine the US 'Farm Bill'. Will the new CAP, in these negotiation stages, also take into account events in the United States?
'The worldwide challenges I mentioned earlier can only be tackled by a global policy response within which the CAP and Farm Bill - as the two most important agricultural policies world-wide - must be coordinated. And it is for these reasons that last year, together with a delegation of MEP colleagues of the Agriculture Commission I have the honour to chair, I travelled to the United States and launched a new approach between Europe and the United States. A Joint Meeting with representatives of US agricultural institutions helped define a shared view of intents concerning the difficulties arsing from the current context and, especially, the need, over and above the differences characterising the two agro-food systems, to work and find broadly shared and coordinated solutions.
Yet building an agricultural policy for the future in keeping with the new global challenges must inevitably entrust new generations with a central role.'
And speaking of new generations, the USDA recently issued a press release that envisages 100 thousand new young agriculturists (aged between 20 and 30 years) over the next few years. What are the forecasts for the European Union?
'Europe, with only 8% of agriculturists under 35 years of age and four and a half millions over 65 years who will stop work by 2020, is significantly behind trends in the USA. Renewed promotion within the European agricultural system is vital, not the least in order to modify the obsolete image of our agriculture. Continuing to believe in young agriculturists means continuing to believe in the future of European agriculture.'
The CAP reform proposal seeks to support young agriculturists. Italy, by envisaging the priority assignment of part of state-owned lands to young people, is in line with this. In your opinion, how should a law of this kind of importance (from which the Government expects important returns) be defined to be effective, fair and transparent?
'Priority assignment of part of state-owned land to young people may well be an important initiative for re-launching new generations in agriculture. Yet over and above such worthy national initiatives, I believe that it would be appropriate at this stage also to focus on what is happening in Europe where, thanks to the commitment of the Parliament, a new awareness has matured about the importance of generational exchange and young agricultural enterprise. These elements have taken on considerable relevance within negotiations on the future of the Common Agricultural Policy, as shown by the content of the CAP 2020 Report approved in Strasburg last July. It was precisely input from the European Parliament that saw the Commission include in its reform proposal an additional payment that member states may provide to agricultural entrepreneurs under 40 years old provided they started their operations less than 5 years beforehand and possess suitable professional requisites.
A first step but one which must be modified to enhance its effectiveness and appropriateness for the objective we must achieve in the short-term: transform into opportunities one of the main strengths for the future of European agriculture and rural areas.'
Proir to the approval of the so-called 'Milk Package', your position was very clear (briefly: “without the adoption of reforms concerning the management of production volumes and quality safeguards and standards, Parliament will not approve any package proposed to us”). The result obtained, thanks not the least to your work, is extremely favourable for Italy, provided that the consortia prove capable of reading markets and effectively planning production. Some years ago, you presented a project for regulating production of Grana Padano (Parmesan Cheese) that laid the basis for new developments. What suggestions would you make to the consortia, on the basis of future scenarios in the world of milk (including, from 2015, the abolition of quotas)?
'With the new rules introduced by the “Milk Package”, the Consortia will at last have a very important instrument for planning their production and offering. A tool that takes on a particularly strategic meaning at a time of significant and prolonged volatility on the market and that is the result of the work of the European Parliament and the new legislative powers it was given by the Lisbon Treaty. I am convinced that Italian consortia, like all operators in the dairy trade that as of 2015 will see the end of the quota system, will prove capable of exploiting the enormous opportunities offered by the new EU regulations.'
Agriculture and competitiveness. Do you feel that European Union countries must define a shared fiscal and taxation regime (or one shared to the most possible extent) in order to compete at similar production cost levels?
'In this very delicate stage, Europe must make every necessary effort to build a common and shared approach to safeguard markets. This inevitably involves strengthening European economic policies. A fundamental aspect for the agricultural sector and its competitiveness. A characteristic of the era of food scarcity, in short, is that an increase in prices does not reward agriculturists who, on the other hand, have to tackle higher production costs. Income may even increase but is absorbed to a great extent by the need to cover input costs. If this uncertainty correlated with market volatility is not tackled using suitable tools, there is the risk of negative impact also on other components of the value chain.'
Markets and prices. A few days ago, the new director general of the FAO envisaged a fall in the prices of many products. What are the European Union forecasts for 2012?
'The downturn announced by the FAO will probably be confirmed, despite the due differences within the scope of different types of production, by the European market. Yet over and above all this, as already mentioned, what we are experiencing is an epoch of extremely volatile markets. An aspect that is destined to characterise all the main agricultural products over the next few years which we must inevitably deal with in order to strengthen the competitiveness of the European primary system. This is why, as I shall never tire of saying, the coming reform of the CAP is a major opportunity for everyone that we must prove capable of grasping. The negotiation will not be easy but I am convinced that in the end we will create an ambitious reform capable of projecting agriculture beyond the difficulties characterising the uncertain reference context.'
During the previous edition of Fieragricola in 2010, and also afterwards, you stated that the time is ripe for European sub-contracting legislation. Bearing in mind that almost all harvesting operations are entrusted to agricultural mechanisation companies, where should be agro-engineering entrepreneurs be placed: in agriculture, crafts or industry? Moreover, since sub-contractors undeniably operate in agriculture, is it possible to allow them access to the measures in the rural development plans, perhaps only those involving specific measures for mechanisation and innovation?
'Since they are the main source of technological innovation in European agriculture, mechanisation companies are a fundamental link in the value chain. Despite this, and as I have already said on several occasions, the excessive fragmentation and diversification of sub-contracting imposes the search for a reference juridical context on an EU scale. Sub-contractors are one of the main entrepreneurial categories capable of ensuring the competitiveness of the primary sector on the market and efforts at an institutional level must focus on safeguarding and valorising the sector. An opportunity in this regard will emerge from the new rules for rural development within the scope of the post-2013 CAP.'
Bearing in mind that neither the euro nor history have really united individual European countries, can agriculture be considered as a kind of bonding agent for the EU? And to what extent?
'Agriculture can provide an important contribution to 'cementing' the European Union. In any case, the CAP has and still represents the most important economic policy implemented by the EU in its 50-year history, is one of the most significant elements in the unification process and the most important bonding factor for Europe. A policy that today, in a period when there is debate over food safety, acquires even more importance. European decisions concerning the quality of food and the landscape, the environment and the model of development, in short, must take the new CAP into account.'
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