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Cap

Volume 407: debated on Thursday 19 June 2003

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12.

If she will make a statement on EU discussions on reform of the common agricultural policy. [120198]

As my right hon. Friend is aware, crucial negotiations between EU Agriculture Ministers about reform of the common agricultural policy got off to a positive start last week and resumed on Tuesday. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is currently heavily engaged in trying to secure a deal that will benefit farmers, consumers, the environment, developing countries and world trade.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Does he agree that replacing the common agricultural policy with a policy of sustainable rural development is the best way to reconcile the interests of farmers, world trade and developing countries? Which countries in the EU are supporting such an approach, and, in particular, what discussions and support are we getting from our German partners, who have a lot to gain from that approach?

My right hon. Friend takes us into some of the detail. I believe that the plenary session reconvened a few minutes ago. We are still talking and negotiating. There seems to be a common agreement among all parties that we must get an agreement and that the common agricultural policy must be reformed. As I indicated, we are working hard to achieve the right deal. I am sure that she will agree that we have the best negotiator in the business in the Secretary of State, who is seeking to achieve those outcomes for the United Kingdom.

It is nice to see you back in the Chair, Mr. Speaker. I ask the Minister to look very carefully at unsupported crops, as it is growers who are already out of the subsidy culture who stand to lose most as a result of the current proposals.

We certainly look with interest at the situation regarding unsupported crops. The Government's general approach is to help all producers—supported and unsupported—to do their best to meet their market's requirements and to be their competitive.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that it is absolutely crucial that the European Union is able to enter into the World Trade Organisation discussions in September with significant changes to the common agricultural policy already agreed. Does he agree that a slightly amended CAP— rather than radical reform—is probably not worth having, and that it would be in Britain's and the developing world's interests to push this issue to the limit, instead of agreeing to a slight compromise to satisfy the French Government's unreasonable demands in the current negotiations?

As my hon. Friend knows, the Secretary of State is the sort of person who will ensure the very best outcome from any period of negotiation. We should await the outcome of those discussions, but my hon. Friend is right to say that a meaningful agreement on CAP reform would be the best possible starting point for our entering into the WTO trade talks at Cancun in September. For the moment, however, we need to contain ourselves and wait and see what emerges from today's discussions.

The Financial Times reported last week that the French and the Germans have entered into complex secret negotiations on the subject—would you believe it?—of the takeovers directive. The Germans have made huge concessions and blown a hole in the Fischler package in return for concessions on the takeovers directive. We are pleased that the Secretary of State is currently involved in the negotiations, but I rather hoped that the Minister would come to the Dispatch Box today and give us a bit of news from the front. What line is the Secretary of State taking in those negotiations, will the Minister reassure us that she is indeed fighting British farmers' corner, and what does he hope the outcome will be?

I am not going to try to predict the outcome of talks that are taking place as we speak. The hon. Gentleman knows full well that the line that the Secretary of State will take on behalf of Britain and British agriculture will be a tough one. She will do everything that she can to produce the best possible outcome, and it would enhance the hon. Gentleman's reputation if he were to give her proper credit for the way in which she has fought for us on the international stage. On the Financial Times report, I would simply say that our discussions ought not to be driven by what we read in the newspapers.