|Behind the livestock's smoke screen.... the Polish heavyweight:|
June 18, 2000 No. 25 (608) - News
EU: No Subsidies for Polish Farmers
Franz Fischler, the European Union Commissioner on Agriculture, Rural Development and Fisheries, had some tough words for Poland during his official visit June 7-9.
Fischler warned that protectionism in agricultural trade was not a remedy for persistent structural problems. He also voiced doubts about whether full direct payments for the Polish farmers were the most appropriate instrument in a period of rapid structural change. This was tough talk on one of the most divisive issues to separate Poland and its future EU partners.
Poland declared that it will introduce EU agricultural law to the Polish legal code and implement it quickly, so that all should be in place by the end of 2002. Poland hopes for the full incorporation of the farming sector into the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which of course would mean Polish farmers would participate fully in its benefits [Aaargh!!]. Poland believes its future production quotas should correspond to this country's potential for agricultural production. The Polish government hopes that farmers will benefit from all direct payments in the framework of CAP just after accession. According to Polish Agriculture Minister Artur Balazs, that would mean about 2.5 billion euros of direct support annually for about 60 percent of Polish farmers. [and Bob's your uncle!]
But Fischler said the request that Polish farmers receive full direct payments from the date of accession was a matter for the enlargement negotiations. "I am not convinced that direct payments as we know them under the CAP are appropriate to a period of rapid structural change," he said. "We must ask ourselves whether CAP payments will help to unlock the potential of Polish agriculture or hinder its adaptation to the conditions of the single market and create social dislocation. It might be better to help the Polish rural economy overcome existing structural handicaps through well-targeted rural development policies and transitional support for the worst-off." However, he said he would not accept different versions of the CAP for old and new members in the long term, thus accepting Poland's argument that there should be no such inequities.
Accepting the EU legislation would not be enough, however. Poland will need to incorporate the acquis communautaire into its legal system and ensure its effective implementation on becoming an EU member. "This includes the need to develop the capacity to handle policies such as CAP and the detailed legislation of food quality, food safety, and veterinary and plant health standards," Fischler said, underlining also that only products compatible with EU standards will benefit from the single market.
Probably the EU will insist on the need for full implementation by Poland, from the day of accession, of EU quality standards for products such as fruit and vegetables or the butterfat content of milk and registration of slaughter animals. How to organize agricultural trade will be a topic for future discussion. The EU definitely opposes a transitional period for the Polish milk and meat sectors to achieve EU standards. Instead, EU negotiators want Poland to guarantee the standards for all Polish exports to EU countries.
The EU commissioner underlined that the enlargement negotiations should not be a fight to win points, but rather a process of seeking mutually acceptable solutions. "We don't have a final position on direct payments for the time being," he said.
One important issue is pre-accession aid for Polish farmers. The EU has allocated 168 million euros to Poland annually, as of this year, under the SAPARD program for agriculture and rural development. The Polish SAPARD plan is the subject of negotiations between the Ministry of Agriculture and the European Commission.
Liberalization of agricultural trade is still one of the most contentious issues between Poland and the EU. Brussels wants Poland to reduce higher 1999 tariffs for grain, meat, sugar and yogurt. For products considered "non-sensitive," an immediate and full liberalization of trade was proposed. The so-called "double zero approach" provides for abandoning export subsidies and liberalizing trade within tariff quotas at zero duty. According to Fischler, tariff increases might provide only short-term relief for Polish farmers, but they do not improve their competitiveness. In the long term, he said, they would be harmful for Polish agriculture. In 1999 Poland decided to increase the import tariff on pork from 60 percent to 83.3 percent because the export refunds granted by the EU were high. Then Brussels reduced the refunds to a lower level, but the higher Polish tariffs remain in place.