THE FARMERS’ UNION OF WALES has long known that the family farm is the cornerstone of our economy and culture here in Wales and, as such, Wales has an opportunity to be a rural economic powerhouse post -Brexit.
Speaking at the FUW Press Conference on Sunday (Jul 17) ahead of the Royal Welsh Show, Union President Glyn Roberts said: “In these times of political uncertainty, only a few things are constant: the grass will continue to grow and it will probably rain soon!
“So we are blessed with those strategic resources that make our industry successful.”
Much political and media attention has recently been focussed on risks to jobs and the local economy in and around the M4 corridor in South Wales – and quite rightly so, the FUW President told delegates.
“But you may be surprised to learn that there are almost as many people engaged in the milk industry in Pembrokeshire as there are people making a living in our Welsh steel industry. Yet there is a clear imbalance in political focus for supporting these two very important industries – an imbalance which also extends to all our agricultural sectors,” said Glyn Roberts.
He added that his aspiration and indeed the intention of the Farmers’ Union of Wales is to change this.
“We want to see the value and importance of the rural economy truly recognised, and to build a visible and valued Rural Powerhouse – not something that attracts industrial focus in a small geographic area, like the north-east Wales ‘powerhouse’ built around foreign manufacturing; what is needed is recognition of the fact that 80% of our land mass is rural; that more than a third of Wales’ population live in rural areas; and that farming is the bedrock of our rural communities, without which vast direct and indirect contributions to Wales’ economy as a whole would disappear,” continued the Union President.
He told delegates that the Rural Powerhouse the FUW envisages that it will take all that is valuable in our rural economies and maximise their outputs and impact. It will recognise the interactions that exist in rural Wales, the communities that work and live together, the networks that support each other and of course the importance of rural Wales to our culture.
Glyn Roberts further stated: “If you want a clear indication of the cultural importance of farming, you need only consider this: in Ceredigion, less than 50% of the population now speak Welsh. But within the farming community, the percentage is close to 100%.
“Consider also the value of the Young Farmers Clubs playing such diverse and vital roles in their communities, where they also protect our culture and language so very effectively. There can be no doubt that farming holds these groups together and makes them a real force in our rural communities.”
The message from the FUW is clear – this is not just about farming; it is about the wider recognition of how farming matters, where supply chains are involved, how money circulates in the local economy, where people survive, where profits are made, communities are sustained and our culture continues to thrive.
Glyn Roberts, in his speech, asked: “Why is it that the supply chains, which employ millions and ultimately supply the food we eat, through our dairies, slaughterhouses and other processors, don’t even appear on the radar of the National Infrastructure Commission? Why do our rural areas not attract the sort of attention and funding the M4 relief road has attracted given their direct importance to our economy, not to mention other key related industries such as tourism – and, of course, feeding people?”
Addressing the upcoming exit from the European Union, the FUW President said: “Since June 23, we have all been immersed in a sea of political turmoil and uncertainty: we know something will happen, we know it will be big and far-reaching, but we don’t know when it will start or when it will end.
“For our part, we have made it clear since the referendum result was announced that matters should be progressed at a sensible pace, and I am pleased to have seen increasing numbers of politicians and commentators coming over to our point of view.”
Glyn Roberts asked those in power to resist the temptation to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty prematurely for a number of reasons, not least because of the vast amount of work which needs to be undertaken to repeal, or redraft, the 5,500 acts relating to agriculture and the rural economy; the likely timescales over which trade agreements can be negotiated; the risk that elections in France and Germany would impact on negotiation time and the huge job of unravelling the current CAP and our commitments made under the Multi- Annual Financial Framework.
“We know what we’ve potentially got until 2020, so let’s stick with it. Let’s maximise the return on what is planned.
“Moving at speed towards Brexit brings with it huge risks, so we certainly don’t want speed – but there is certainly a need for haste in terms of what can be done to prepare for a post-Brexit world, and provide as much clarity as possible in terms of removing confusion, uncertainty and rumour,” he said.
Staying within the Multiannual Financial Framework timescale, as favoured by the FUW, would allow precisely this according to the FUW.
“Setting out detailed expectations for life post-Brexit would of course be inappropriate at this stage, but we have already outlined key overarching priorities for Welsh agriculture to all the political parties and, as a democratic organisation, we have initiated a process of consultation with members which will be moved forward at an appropriate pace.
“We are also pleased to be involved with the Welsh Government discussions to plan the future, and so we return to the issue of the creation of a Welsh rural powerhouse.
“Whatever concerns we have, the decision made on June 23, coupled with recognition of the importance of agriculture and our rural communities, provides us with an opportunity to create something that is absolutely right for Wales in the near, medium and long term,” said FUW President Glyn Roberts.
FUW criticise Assembly Committee
ACCORDING to the FUW, a National Assembly for Wales committee has been misled into making a draconian recommendation that would play into the hands of multi-billion pound telecommunication companies.
The union has also suggested that the committee may have been naive in not identifying the true motives of those advocating such moves.
The National Assembly for Wales’ Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee published a report entitled Digital Infrastructure in Wales, which included a recommendation that ‘The Welsh Government should consider making future public subsidy conditional on supporting government policy to improve digital infrastructure, and to ensure that it meets the needs of consumers in the future, in particular any likely convergence between broadband and mobile internet connectivity.’
Responding to the report in a letter to Committee Chair Russell George AM, Gavin Williams, chairman of the FUW’s Land Use and Parliamentary Committee, said: “The Farmers’ Union of Wales has long been a proponent of increasing both broadband and mobile phone coverage in Wales, and has worked closely with Ofcom and others for more than a decade to highlight the needs of Wales’ communities in terms of both.”
Mr Williams goes on to highlight the fact that the union is unaware of any instances where farmers have refused to enter into a fair agreement with commercial companies responsible for digital infrastructure – but is aware of many cases where agreement has been reached between farmers and communication companies but planning permission has been refused, and of instances where companies have behaved in unacceptable and unprofessional ways in order to try and install communication infrastructure on private land.
“There may well be a handful of cases where landowners have been uncooperative, but we would suggest that members of the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee have been misled if they believe this is so widespread that it warrants a draconian recommendation to Government, said Mr Williams.
“Rather, we would suggest that the underlying motive for those who have suggested such a barrier exists at any scale is the wish to boost company profits by seeking changes which would allow farmers and landowners to be bullied into signing contracts which do not represent the commercial nature of work and installations.”
Mr Williams concludes his letter by saying, “We share the Committee’s frustrations regarding barriers to broadband and mobile coverage, but find it wholly unacceptable that a National Assembly for Wales committee has been led to believe – some would say naively – that it would be desirable to see multi-billion pound commercial companies boosting their profits by forcing family farms to accept one-sided agreements that in no way reflect the commercial nature of mobile and broadband infrastructure.”
Lynx trial decision near
THE NATIONAL SHEEP ASSOCIATION (NSA) is concerned to hear rumours that Secretary of State for the Environment Michael Gove may be prepared to fast-track a decision on lynx release.
It is calling on representative farming bodies and individuals to unite and take action to voice unanimous concerns over the proposals.
NSA is aware the Lynx UK Trust is continuing its campaign work while the application is considered, and feels it is essential Mr Gove appreciates the substantial and widespread concerns rural communities have around the proposed lynx release.
Lynx became extinct in the UK around 1,300 year ago.
The medium-sized cats can grow to around 1.3m, are apex predators in their environments, and hunt by ambush in forest habitats.
Phil Stocker, NSA Chief Executive, said: “I know Mr Gove is interested in these proposals and I am certain now is the time for individual farmers, land managers and their representative organisations to make their feelings heard. I would go as far as urging every farmer who has views over this to write to the Secretary of State so he can appreciate the strength of stakeholder concerns, which go way beyond the losses that will be suffered by sheep farmers.”
A verdict on whether lynx should be released in Kielder Forest, Northumberland, is still pending after Lynx UK Trust submitted a formal application to Natural England earlier this year. The Government advisory body is currently reviewing information, and is expected to announce a decision in the coming months.
The Trust has also asked landowners in Wales if they would be happy to allow lynx to roam their properties and its chief scientific advisor, Dr Paul O’Donoghue, claims that five Welsh landowners have expressed an interest in lynx being placed on their land.
Dr O’Donoghue said in Europe, the kill rate was 0.4 sheep per lynx per year.
Mr Stocker continued: “The risks to landscape and wildlife, heavily invested in for years, are real. Alongside disease and welfare risks, coupled with concerns around whether any lynx population could be genetically sustainable on our heavily populated island. This of course in addition to the resultant losses and stress on farmers.
“It is not a simple matter of a compensation package putting everything right. We know from sheep farmers in Finland, Norway and elsewhere that losses go way beyond those predicted. I simply cannot accept that the conscious release of a high-level predator is compatible with the high level of animal welfare expected of British farmers.”
The Lynx UK Trust has announced an agreement with Lloyds Syndicate ARK Speciality Programs, which they say will insure the entire sheep population against lynx attacks throughout the period of a trial – if it goes ahead.
Brexit trade agreement attacked by US
AN ADVANCE in the Brexit negotiations between the European Union and the UK Government has been rejected by the US Government and other major agricultural exporters.
EU negotiators had reached a tentative agreement with the UK to establish a single approach to dividing up their relationship with other members of the World Trade Organization post-Brexit.
At the moment, the UK is a joint member of the WTO with the other 27 EU members.
The British economy accounts for about 16 percent of the EU economy but its share of EU imports from other WTO countries at preferential tariffs varies according to products.
As the UK quits the EU in 2019, it will need to separate out its share of the EU’s overall quotas for farm goods that can be imported from countries such as New Zealand and Australia.
According to Reuters, neither the remaining EU states nor Britain want to have to accept greater quantities of low- or zero-duty farm imports from the rest of the world to avoid increasing competition for their own producers. But determining where such goods currently end up being consumed inside the EU customs union is problematic.
In an interview with Bloomberg News, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox said: “We have come to an agreement on the methodology of splitting EU quotas as we move forward,”
The Cabinet Minister described the agreement as ‘a step in the right direction’, but not a final agreement.
However, the agreement reached on quotas has been rejected by seven members of the WTO, including the USA.
Those signing a joint letter objecting to the agreement are US, Canada, New Zealand, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and Thailand.
The letter from the objectors states they were not consulted and the deal would disrupt “the delicate balance of concessions and entitlements that is fundamental to the global trade architecture today.”
It continues: “We are aware of media reports suggesting the possibility of a bilateral agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union 27 countries about splitting Tariff Relief Quotas based on historical averages,
“We would like to record that such an outcome would not be consistent with the principle of leaving other WTO members no worse off, nor fully honour the existing TRQ access commitments.
“Thus, we cannot accept such an agreement.”
A spokesperson for the UK Government promised to coordinate with the complainants: “The UK wants to ensure a smooth transition which minimizes the disruption to our trading relationships with other WTO members and tariff rate quotas are one of the issues that we are discussing with the EU, and with WTO members.”
But New Zealand’s Deputy Trade Secretary tweeted: “Sorry that key partners assume a deal they strike between them will suit the rest of the world.”
And the US Government said: “Ensuring that US exporters of food and agricultural products have the market access in Europe due to them even after Brexit is a high priority for the administration.”
In a response to Brexit, exporters to the EU will want to redress what they regard as an imbalance in quotas by seeking larger export quotas for their own goods. That move could spell disaster for UK farmers, as goods could be dumped on to the UK market, potentially pushing already pressed British farmers out of business.
The British-EU proposal is expected to be debated during the WTO’s week of agricultural talks later this month and at the WTO ministerial conference in Buenos Aires in December.
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