If the CAP does not fit we should not wear it
A year ago, the Institute for Public Policy Research issued a report saying that the UK’s first-past-the-post electoral system was not fit for purpose in a multi-party democracy. Unfortunately, in a shameless piece of narcissistic political expediency, the majority of members of both main parties united to ensure it was not killed-off by a Referendum on the use of proportional representation (or AV at least) instead.
The European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has been similarly criticised for as long as I can remember; and yet it is still consuming more than 40% of the EU’s budget. Why is that? Yes, you guessed it; narcissistic political expediency… Successive UK governments have said that they want the CAP reformed; and the current Coalition – seeking to be the greenest (UK) government ever – says it wants farmers rewarded for good environmental practice rather than over-production. If they could do this, it would indeed be a fantastic achievement; but I am not hopeful. This is because of the size of the political machine that is the EU (or rather the European Commission); and because of the age of the CAP (Europeans have become accustomed to its benefits).
However, as it stands, the CAP institutionalises over-production; rewards poor environmental management; and encourages the use of artificial pesticides and fertilizers. Nevertheless, the biggest problem with the CAP is the way in which it distorts global markets; and perpetuates the recurrence of food shortages in developing countries.
It is therefore very ironic, if one is to be generous (rather than cynical), that the EU claims that the CAP is intended to maximise agricultural production in order to supply a global market. This is because, in point of fact, the EU’s free trade agreements (FTA’s) force developing countries to open up their markets to subsidised surplus EU produce; thereby making home-grown foodstuffs uncompetitive: Farmers in developing countries turn instead to producing things they can export (i.e. things that can’t be grown in the EU), thereby perpetuating dependency rather than independence. It is in effect, colonialism by stealth; and it is very clearly not in the interests of anyone outside the EU. It’s one of the reasons that Africa is dying.
Faced with this kind of criticism, the EU put forward proposals (in November 2011) to try and make the CAP appear more environmentally-sound (current negotiations are focussed on reforming the CAP from 2013 onwards), by highlighting growth in world food demand “expected by FAO to increase by 70 percent by 2050″ supposedly offering “an opportunity for EU food exporters”, which can only be met by enhancing “the competitiveness and productivity of the EU agricultural sector”.
However, this did not address the UN’s criticism of the CAP (in June 2011), as is beautifully illustrated by a recent publication by the Transnational Institute (TNI):
‘The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter, criticises the EU’s focus on productivity and trade, since the availability of food itself does not guarantee its adequate distribution: “The question of global food security cannot be reduced simply to a problem of supply or production.” If food production continues to rise in tandem with further marginalisation of small-scale farmers in the South, “the battle against hunger and malnutrition will be lost”. Yet, further marginalisation of small farmers is precisely the risk associated with ongoing dumping of EU food products on the world market and the growing imports of animal feed for the European livestock industry.
‘By fostering competitiveness and exports of European agribusiness, the EU is ignoring the main challenge for food-insecure countries today: the reduction of their import dependency. Since the 1980s, the majority of developing countries turned from net exporters to net importers of food. Today, two-thirds of them suffer from food trade deficits and growing expenses for the purchasing of cereals, dairy products and vegetable oils on the world market.’
Extracted from the Introduction to Globalising Hunger: Food Security and the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) by Thomas Fritz. (Free download from TNI available here).
In the mid-1990s, the Jubilee 2000 campaign highlighted the fact that, back then, the developing world was paying 3 times as much in servicing its debts than it was receiving in aid. With the help of prominent celebrities such as Cliff Richard, Bob Geldof, and Bono, this issue has received a great deal of publicity (but has still not been entirely resolved). Indeed, the insidious Structural Adjustment Programmes the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund forced developing countries to adopt in order to qualify for debt relief are still with us; still distorting markets; and still working against the interests of poorer countries.
What, I wonder, will it take for the EU to stop perpetuating the dependency of poor people all over the world upon foodstuffs grown in the EU? How much longer will the EU hide behind free trade and the global food shortage it has done much to create, in order to perpetuate an inequitous system that benefits no-one outside the EU?
“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”