The Farmers’ Union of Wales has described DEFRA’s Agriculture Bill, introduced to Parliament today, as a ‘leap into the economic and legal unknown’ given current uncertainty around Brexit and World Trade Organisation rules.
In what they describe as a ‘landmark agricultural bill’, DEFRA sets out a legal framework to phase out direct support for farming over a seven year period to 2027 while introducing a system of paying landowners for “public goods”.
FUW President Glyn Roberts said: “This has never been tried before anywhere in the world so we have no idea about the economic impact of such a scheme, and there are also big questions about its legality under the WTO rules.
“For more than two years we have highlighted our view that sweeping decisions such as these should not be made until we have a full understanding of what the economic landscape is likely to look like after Brexit and certainly not before detailed economic analyses have been undertaken.”
Mr Roberts said given this, and the uncertainty around the legality of public goods payments under the WTO Agreement on Agriculture, the bill represented a very dangerous leap into the unknown with potentially catastrophic consequences for food production, farming families and rural communities.
The bill also provides a legal basis for the Welsh Government to take forward its own legislation on Welsh agricultural policy, and the Welsh Government says it hopes to use these powers to present a Wales Agriculture Bill to the National Assembly before the end of this Assembly term.
“The main thrust of the Welsh Government’s proposals, which are currently being consulted on, is very similar to what England is proposing, in that they want to phase out direct payments and move to a payment for public goods scheme,” said Mr Roberts.
“We have made our objections clear to this on the grounds of issues such as legality, timing, deliverability and the lack of economic impact assessments, and it is notable that the Scottish Government has effectively adopted the same view as the FUW on the need to avoid radical changes given all the uncertainty around Brexit and to focus on improving what we already have.
“Wales must not use these new powers to simply follow England into the unknown on this issue. Welsh people voted for devolution so we could do things differently and in ways which are appropriate for our country and support Welsh families and jobs.
“That’s what we have done before with our agricultural and rural policies with very positive results, and we will continue to urge the Welsh Government to do what’s right for our industry, to act cautiously given everything that’s going on with Brexit, and to make evidence based decisions rather than leaps into the unknown.”