Darling letter upsets farmers

Farming leaders have reacted with fury to Chancellor Alistair Darling's bid to reopen negotiations over reform of the CAP, branding his letter to his EU counterparts as "inept".

Darling has written to finance ministers across the EU, urging them to enter talks next month to abolish all parts of the CAP, which keep EU food prices above world market levels, and to end direct payments to farmers.

In the letter, he said: "The EU has a clear responsibility to play a full role in the international community's collective efforts to address the consequences of spiralling food prices by tackling the causes, but it also has responsibility to its own citizens to ensure that its own policies do not unnecessarily inflate the cost of food within the EU.

"It is therefore unacceptable that, at a time of significant food price inflation, the EU continues to apply very high import tariffs to many agricultural commodities."

However, the letter has left the National Farmers' Union dismayed, with the organisation's president, Peter Kendall, describing it as "badly timed and tactically inept".

He said: "We've been assured that the British government would negotiate for a constructive evolution of the CAP in the upcoming Health Check, yet this letter is effectively calling for the CAP to be scrapped. Equally, it is one thing for the Chancellor to call for a conclusion of the WTO talks, but quite another for him to call for the abolition of all tariffs at a critical stage of the negotiations."

Kendall said that the NFU had criticised the government's 'Vision for the CAP' in 2005 as more likely to antagonise than to persuade other members states, and so it had proved.

"All the indications are that this letter will irritate others in Europe and be counter-productive to the government's wish to see constructive progress on agriculture and trade," he said.

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