The EU Commissioner for Agriculture Phil Hogan has asked the Oxford Farming Conference how the UK would fare if it were to leave the EU.
The UK is due to vote on whether it should leave the EU or not in 2017.
Speaking at the Conference, Hogan questioned how Britain, with a population of 60m would fare in negotiating with countries like China, with a population 1.3 billion.
“In the EU it punches at a weight of 500m, almost twice the size of the US. It could take the UK years to negotiate deals with Korea, Canada and so on – deals the EU has already successfully negotiated.”
He also said that the CAP is a legally binding contract between the EU and farmers up to 2020, under the Multiannual Financial Framework.
“The CAP heading cannot be cut by the Commission or any Government during this period. However, outside the EU, agricultural spending would be subject to the same annual review by the British Treasury as any other Department – can farmers compete with doctors, nurses and schools in such a review?
“This is especially relevant in light of the fact that the DEFRA budget is already down a third since 2010, whilst other Departments such as Health, Education, Defence and Overseas Aid are ring-fenced from cuts.”
He said that outside the EU, Britain would still want access to the Union’s internal market. But it comes at a price.
“Would the British Exchequer be prepared to pay a price that fully guaranteed your access for agricultural products? Would it expect farmers to pay part of the access-fee through higher taxes?
“You wrestled with similar questions in 1973 and 1975 and made a judgement. I know that you are wrestling with such questions again. I hope you find the answers that will be right for you.”
Hogan also praised the work of Peter Mandelson who, he said, had been at the tiller of the crucial EU Trade portfolio for 13 of the last 25 years.
The agri-food sector in the UK has never been more relevant, he said, from ‘The Archers’ and ‘Farming Today’ to Real Ale and the ‘Great British Bake-Off’, food and rural communities are bound up with British life and identity.
The whole food chain employs one in eight people at work and contributes more than £100 billion to the economy per annum.
He also said that people should not forget the historical mission of the CAP itself: to ensure the sufficient supply of safe and sustainably produced food at a quality which our consumers expect – despite the uncertainties which farmers face, such as weather, animal disease or market prices.
“This is essential for a nation that imports close to 40% of its food. And the British public agrees. A new Eurobarometer survey shows well over three fifths of all British citizens now believe that the CAP is fulfilling its aims in securing food supply, and half think that financial aid to farmers should actually increase.
“This is a remarkable endorsement of the CAP and of British farmers: clearly, the more consumers care about the origin and quality of food, the bigger stake they have in the vitality of rural communities and our producers.”