UK Cabinet Member: EU Agri Subsidies 'Immoral'

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 1/05/2011 11:14:00 AM
Well, no @#$%. While I agree with the sentiment that spending vast amounts of EU funds on handouts to rich-world farmers--and benefits tend to go to large producers, mind you--is immoral, you do have to consider the context of who's saying so. Among other things:
  • The Conservatives to which Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman belongs to are pretty hardcore Euroskeptic--many of them actually like the "Thatcher's children" jibe;
  • Since the time of, well, Thatcher, the UK has been keen on receiving a "rebate" from the EU on what it considers as frivolous spending like the aforementioned agricultural subsidies;
  • Given that UK farmers aren't major recipients on the EU dole, nobody there would really be offended if the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is cast as a waste of money.
Activists have made abolishing or drastically watering down the CAP a cause celebre, especially during advocacy for African farmers. Still, the political will for doing so in the European Union probably lags well behind such noble sentiments. Regardless, can you see the French moving to scrap CAP? While its percentage of the EU budget has shrunken from peaks well above two-thirds of the total, it's still a money drain. More pertinently, it places LDC farmers in competition with rich countries' subsidized agricultural products in contravention of conventional notions of trade fairness. So on to today's story:
European Union farm policy is “morally wrong” because it undercuts agriculture in developing countries with import tariffs and export subsidies, said Caroline Spelman, the U.K. environment secretary. The Common Agricultural Policy “continues to distort trade by maintaining high EU prices,” Spelman said in an e-mailed speech to be delivered today at the Oxford Farming Conference. “This gives rise to high import tariffs and the use of export subsidies to clear market surpluses.”

The EU should cut direct payments to farmers, and rising world food prices make it possible to plan for the end of such subsidies, Spelman said. Farmers should instead be paid for taking steps to protect the environment, she said. The CAP is the biggest single spending area for the EU, which budgeted 56.7 billion euros ($75.4 billion) for agriculture and rural development in 2009, according to data from the bloc. The current rules end in 2013, and EU ministers are set to discuss changes to the regulations this year.

The U.K. plans to work with other Group of 20 countries to end export bans on agricultural commodities, such as Russia’s halt to grain exports last year after drought reduced its cereal crop. France will head the G20 this year. “As global demand for food rises and as international food markets open up, the risk increases of wrong-headed protectionism,” said Spelman, one of the officials who make up the U.K. government cabinet. “I would like to work with France to seek an end to export bans, one of the most restrictive practices found in the world market.”
Aside from throwing red meat to the Euroskeptic Tory base, I don't see real EU-wide policy implications here. Yes, these supports have probably become immoral. But, the compromise of agricultural subsidies is--in historical terms--more important to the very existence of European Union than any bailout fund.