Development & Aid, Europe, Food and Agriculture, Headlines

EUROPE: Agriculture Proposals ‘Failing Development’

Daan Bauwens

BRUSSELS, Oct 19 2011 (IPS) - The new European Commission proposals on a Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) have dropped every reference to development obligations, NGOs point out. They will not stop the European Union from threatening food security in developing nations, they say.

CAP is a European Union system which mainly consists of agriculture subsidies and programmes. It currently represents 48 percent of the EU’s budget, equalling about 55 billion euros.

The European Commission published its new CAP proposals last Thursday. “We have to make sure money is spent in a fair and more effective way,” Roger Waite, spokesperson for the European Commission, tells IPS. “In the new proposals, we put the emphasis on sustainability, greening agriculture, and making sure agriculture helps the whole of society.”

But one day before the publication, the European development NGO confederation CONCORD released a press statement saying the new CAP proposals had dropped every reference to Europe’s development obligations. According to article 208 of the Lisbon Treaty, Europe is legally bound to take all effects of its policies on developing nations into account.

This is the so-called Policy Coherence for Development (PCD) principle. While the latest EU Parlament Resolution in July 2011 and the original Commission communication from November 2010 featured a commitment to PCD, the new proposals do not mention it.

“We are not against farmers, nor are we against farming in Europe,” Laust Leth Gregersen, policy officer at CONCORD Denmark tells IPS. “Our only concern is that sustaining agriculture in Europe must not hamper food security outside of Europe, especially in developing countries.

“All around the globe, you can find developing nations where artificially cheaper exports from the European Union squeeze local farmers out of the production chain and out of their local markets. This leads to food insecurity. The only sustainable solution to world hunger is to increase productivity in developing countries where people live.”

According to the United Nations, last year 925 million people went hungry, equalling one in seven people worldwide. At the same time a third of the food produced for human consumption is thrown away. CONCORD says that by dropping its development obligations, the European Commission is not taking its responsibility in tackling world hunger. As the Commission is not committing to phase out export subsidies, the EU can continue to export below full production costs.

“It is true phasing out export subsidies has not been mentioned in our proposals,” the European Commission’s Roger Waite tells IPS, “but this is an offer Europe has repeatedly made during negotiations at the World Trade Organisation (WTO), on condition that everybody else would get rid of their trade distorting export subsidies.

“We are not going to disarm unilaterally, but at the same time we have to stress that our use of export refunds has come down massively in recent years. This year the budget for export refunds is less than 0.5 percent of the total CAP budget. The Commission remains committed to phasing out export refunds in the long run, but only within the context of the WTO.”

According to the European Commission, reducing its internal support for agriculture isn’t an option either. “You would see a concenration of production in the most efficient areas, which of course would have a negative environmental impact. But at the same stage, we would more and more see desertification in the more periferal regions which would mean in the long term, we would be reducing our potential because it’s always difficult to restart once you have given up farming.”

CONCORD says the continued subsidies will still lead to higher levels of production and higher levels of export. “Besides, basically it is not a question of subsidies,” says Laust Leth Gregersen, “it’s about how we manage our relations with developing countries. If developing countries were allowed to have the policy space to save their own markets, the case would be rather different. But they don’t.”

According to CONCORD, the new CAP proposals should include mechanisms that analyse its impacts on the developing world. For instance, farmers’ organisations in countries that are EU trading partners should be given adequate space to be heard. A process should follow to revise situations where it is proven imports of EU products have a negative impact on local markets.

“Way too often we see the Commission argue that there is no external impact. To design a policy and to discuss it in a meaningful way is difficult when you have one party just denying that there is an external impact. It is not our mandate to design the European agricultural policy in detail, but our purpose is to bring the stories of farmers outside of Europe, start monitoring and start the dialogue,” says Gregersen.

After a debate in the European Parliament and Council, the approval of the new CAP proposals is planned for the end of 2013. The reformed CAP should come into effect in the beginning of 2014.

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