February 23, 2011
Improved food security has long been a justification for protecting farmers. In the long history of European agriculture policy flinging up tariff walls and subsidising production has nearly always been the governmental response to the prospect of potential food shortage. The evidence that such actions generally result in a reduction of production outside the protected area and therefore a diminution of global food supply has seldom discouraged such policy responses.
Nonetheless, a majority of European Union governments appear determined to maintain, if not strengthen, the protection and maintain the subsidisation of European agriculture in response to the perceived ‘food crisis’. The need to encourage general economic and agricultural development in the least wealthy countries of the world is subjugated to this domestic objective. The general lack of any enthusiasm in Brussels for a constructive conclusion of the Doha Round is symptomatic of this attitude.
While lip service is paid to the need to make European agriculture ‘more competitive’, the protectionist majority are determined to see no reduction in the €40+ billion a year currently paid out of the EU budget to bolster the incomes of agricultural producers. Given the parameters of the current Doha negotiations, there would be no requirement to do so in any final agreement. What is needed is commitment to a significant liberalisation of agricultural trade; without this the Round is pointless.
The major areas of contention in the WTO negotiations for the EU are tariffs and export subsidies. These are also the major issues in any consideration of the Union’s future food security and also of global food security, as well as the EU’s commitment to fostering overseas development. There is thus a direct link between the planned further modification of the CAP and the Doha Round. While export subsidies are, fortunately, of diminishing importance, tariffs are at the centre of the food security argument. While the EU may achieve increased short term and inefficient domestic self-sufficiency behind a maintained tariff wall, long term security is only likely to be achieved by improving access to the whole of global food production. Increased European purchasing of agricultural commodities from third countries would stimulate production in these countries. Competition on world markets would be levelled by reduction in directly and indirectly subsidised EU exports. The net result would be an increase in total world food production with an obvious beneficial effect on overall world food security.Brian Gardner