To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what was the outcome of the Council of Agriculture Ministers meeting on 28 and 29 March in Brussels; and if he will make a statement.
The Council of Agriculture Ministers met in Brussels on 28–30 March 1988. I represented the United Kingdom.The major business at this meeting was to conclude discussion on a stabiliser for the wine sector necessary to complete the European Council summit package on agriculture. The negotiation was long and difficult. I had to resist strong pressure from wine-producing countries to weaken the proposals, but I am pleased to report to the House that the Council finally agreed that a much more rigorous price should be set for the quantity of surplus wine which producers are required to send for distillation. Under the arrangements agreed, the price paid to producers for this obligatory distillation will be reduced by more than half. This severe drop in price support will encourage producers to reduce production by grubbing up part or all of their vineyards. Those who opt to do so will be eligible for single payments and may be exempted from the obligation to distil a proportion of their wine production. This is a tough arrangement to tackle costs and surpluses in this sector and is fully consistent with the outcome of the European Council.The Commissioner for Agriculture formally presented his price proposals for 1988 and Ministers had a first exchange of views on them. I made clear the importance the Government attach to the Community pursuing a strict price policy and containing the cost of the price settlement within the guideline agreed by the European Council. I stressed the current level of negative monetary compensatory amounts in the United Kingdom, reminded the Council of my strong support for the Commission objective of the removal of MCAs by 1992 and argued for measured steps towards their objective this year. Specifically on pigmeat, I pressed for complete devaluation of the United Kingdom green rate in the pig sector where monetary compensatory amounts are clearly causing market distortion.The Council reached agreement on new terms for pigmeat production aids. I continue to believe that it is wrong to have Community financing of grant-aided schemes which encourage pig production at a time when the pig sector is under pressure and the Community is more than self-sufficient. I would have liked to see these grants phased out immediately but a majority of member states were in favour of retaining them. However, by continuing to press our case I succeeded in considerably reducing their impact on pig production from the end of March, by reducing the number of pig places per holding eligible for grant. The grants will also now cease on 31 December 1990 unless the Council decides otherwise.The Council adopted two proposals for revision of production aid for olive oil. Under this system, on current estimates of the last harvest aid will be cut this season by 11 per cent.In the absence of agreement on price levels for milk and beef for the coming marketing years, which were due to begin on 1 and 4 April respectively, the Council agreed to extend the current marketing years for those commodities to 30 April.