W4 Summary of the Agricultural Common Support Framework
Authors: Andrew Moxey and Steven Thomson
Ref: RESAS/005/21 – W4
The Report is available in the supporting documents of this publication.
The UK's departure from the EU requires a new governance mechanism to coordinate devolved decision making on agricultural policy, to avoid unacceptable spill-over effects on competitiveness and on international obligations. The provisional 'Agricultural Common Support Framework outline agreement and concordat' published in February represents this.
The Framework essentially sets-out a consensus-based process by which agricultural policy decisions by one part of the UK are notified to, scrutinised by, and approved (or not) by other parts. The intention is to anticipate and avoid policy disputes, and to provide a means for resolution should disputes arise.
Four levels for discussions have been established: the Inter-Ministerial Group for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (IMG-EFRA), supported by the Senior Officials Programme Board (SOPB), which delegates to the UK Agriculture Policy Collaboration Group (PCG) and UK Agriculture Market Monitoring Group (MMG).
The policy scope is: agricultural spending and associated regulation and enforcement; marketing standards; crisis measures, public intervention (PI) and private storage aid (PSA); cross-border holdings; and, data collection and sharing.
As a formalised process for collective, pan-UK discussions of how devolved agricultural policies may interact, the Framework is a welcome development.
However, the precise decision criteria and relative weightings to be applied are not specified. Consequently, it is not clear what would trigger a disagreement or a dispute, nor how evidence and analysis would be used to seek a resolution.
For example, it is not stated what would constitute sufficient market and/or cross-market effects to cause concern.
Similarly, it is not clear how effects are to be measured in terms of, for instance, specific data sets and counterfactuals to be used and over what time-period. Nor is it clear how academic and anecdotal evidence will be combined.
Whilst the absence of pre-specified decision criteria and evidence metrics may allow for creative negotiations, such ambiguities may also mask the nature of such negotiations. This is perhaps to be expected and is arguably no different to many other existing pan-UK policy fora.
However, the context is now different and more highly politicised, with somewhat different policy visions and preferred support measures across the four home nations.
The effects of events in the Ukraine on the availability and price of agricultural outputs and (especially) inputs in the UK may provide an earlier-than-expected crisis management test of the Framework.
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