Brexit and the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)

With the 29th March deadline approaching UK farmers are particularly opposed to a no-deal Brexit; customs hold-ups at the borders could ruin fresh produce. And there is concern that new trade deals with countries like New Zealand could lead to a flood of cheap imports and therefore making it harder for British farmers.

The EU bloc receives receives about 60% of UK food exports with 70% of the UK food imports come from the EU bloc. Lamb and beef exports could face export tariffs of at least 40% if the UK reverted to World Trade Organization rules under a no-deal exit. The UK produces approximately 60% of what is required to feed its population with the remainder being imported. The UK’s £110bn-a-year agriculture and food sector is deeply integrated with Europe relying on the bloc for agricultural subsidies of £3.1bn ($4bn) under the CAP – Common Agricultural Policy. The government has promised to pay the equivalent of the CAP subsidies up to 2022, no one is certain what will happen after that.

What is CAP?

At the outset of the EU, one of the main objectives was the system of intervention in agricultural markets and protection of the farming sector has been known as the common agricultural policy – CAP. The CAP was established under Article Thirty Nine of the Treaty of Rome, and its objectives – the justification for the CAP – are as follows:

1. Raise and maintain farm incomes, through the establishment of high prices for food. Such prices are often in excess of the free market equilibrium. This necessarily means support buying of surpluses and raising tariffs on cheaper imported food to give domestic preference.
2. To reduce the wide flutuations that often occur in the price of agriculutural products due to uncertain supplies.
3. To increase the mobility of resources in farming and to increase the efficiency of all units. To reduce the number of farms and farmers especially in monoculturalistic agriculture.
4. To stimulate increased production to achieve European self sufficiency to satisfy the consumption of food from our own resources.
5. To protect consumers from violent price changes and to guarantee a wide choice in the shop, without shortages.

CAP Intervention Price

An intervention price is the price at which the CAP would be ready to come into the market and to buy the surpluses, thus preventing the price from falling below the intervention price. This is illustrated below in Figure 1. Here the European supply of lamb drives the price down to the equilibrium 0Pfm – the free market price, where supply and demand curves intersect and quantity demanded and quantity supplied equal 0Qm. However, the intervention price (0Pint) is located above the equilibrium and it has the following effects:

1. It encourages an increase in European production. Consequently, output is raised to 0Qs1.
2. At intervention price, there is a production surplus equal to the horizontal distance AB which is the excess of supply above demand at the intervention price.
3. In buying the surplus, the intervention agency incurs costs equal to the area ABCD. It will then incur the cost of storing the surplus or of destroying it.
4. There is a contraction in domestic consumption to 0Qd1
Consumers pay a higher price to the extent that the intervention price exceeds the notional free market price.

CAP Int Price
Figure 1: The effect of an intervention price on the income of EU farmers.

The increase in farmers’ incomes following intervention is shown also: as has been noted, one of the objectives of price support policy is to raise farmers’ incomes. The shaded area EBCFG indicates the increase in the incomes of the suppliers of lamb.

Throughout most of its four decades of existence, the CAP has had a very poor public relations image. It is extremely unpopular among consumers, and on a number of occasions it has all but bankrupted the EU.

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