From Frédéric Viale and Susan George - ATTAC France

2 May 2008

As the world food crisis deepens, authorities from the IMF, the WTO and the European Union are all claiming that an agreement concluding the now-stalled trade negotiating cycle [the “Doha Round”] at the WTO would contribute to resolving the crisis. And as the referendum in Ireland approaches, the most ardent defenders of the Lisbon Treaty are trying to convince the Irish that it is in their interests to vote Yes. In both cases, these spokespersons are being economical with the truth when they are not telling outright lies.

Despite appearances, the EU’s basic position in the WTO is not one of defending farmers’ interests. The Commission document of 4 October 2006 “Global Europe: Competing in the World” makes this crystal clear.

The Commission’s “renewed market access strategy” is devoted to

(i) Improving access to markets and resources in third countries by addressing non tariff barriers to EU exports and investments; tackling export taxes and restrictions on access to resources; further strengthening the presence of EU companies in third countries through permanent establishment; delivering better market access in services; opening public procurement markets; ensuring that positive changes induced by openness are not jeopardized by abuses of fair competition; securing IPR [Intellectual Property Rights] protection.

(ii) Improving Europe’s capacity to benefit from openness to trade and investment by ensuring internal policies reflect global challenges; equipping people for change; ensuring the benefits of trade policy are passed on to consumers.

Agriculture is not on the Commission’s list and small wonder: farmers are only 2 percent of the European population and agriculture represents only 2 percent of its GDP. Services, on the other hand, make up over three-quarters of GDP but only a quarter of world trade, so there is great scope for improvement.

Access to foreign government procurement contracts would mean a huge new goldmine and breaking down barriers to corporate investments as well as insuring Intellectual Property Rights in countries like China are paramount. As paragraph (ii) notes, “internal policies [must] reflect global challenges” and “equip people for change”. Internal policies like the CAP? People like farmers?

Agriculture is nothing more than a thorn in the side of the pro-business EU Commission and it is impatient to make progress in these lucrative areas of far greater interest to EU corporations. True, some member States remain deeply attached to the Common Agricultural Policy—mainly Ireland, France and Poland—and consequently, EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson has not been able to concede as much as he would have wished. The negotiations have thus been held up for years, paralysed by North-South disputes over agriculture.

Now, however, signs of movement can be discerned in the WTO agricultural market access negotiations, thanks to a relatively unknown mechanism known as “Sensitive Products”. It was introduced at the insistence of the EU Commission in order to shield certain “sensitive” farm commodities from the blanket agricultural tariff cuts set out in the draft texts—typically those products that currently enjoy the most protection. In exchange for a lower tariff cut on Sensitive Products, WTO members using this mechanism have agreed to increase their import quotas on these goods.

Carin Smaller of the International Agricultural Trade Policy Institute recently reported:

“The Sensitive Products negotiations are significant [because] the agricultural goods that are expected to be shielded under this mechanism are also the products that are of most interest to agricultural exporters in [the rich, developed countries]; they include dairy products (milk, cheese and butter), sugar, meat (beef, pork and poultry), rice, and edible oils....the U.S has been active in the most recent Sensitive Products negotiations, displaying a level of interest that has not been visible for several months.”

Without committed U.S. engagement, WTO members cannot hope to complete the Doha Agenda.

So there is “movement” and, since the US is coming back on board, hope in certain quarters. Superficially, one might think this could be favourable to European producers exporting these products but in fact, although some protection exists where exports are concerned, they would be under simultaneous pressure from higher import quotas. Finally, the protection of some products [but only where exports are concerned] does not imply protection of all products, to the contrary.

It has been further agreed that European farm subsidies must be eliminated by 2013. The EU is keeping this matter as quiet and vague as possible—otherwise people might start asking how continuing the CAP can be compatible with eliminating all subsidies that farmers, in particular Irish farmers, now receive.

Furthermore, under the terms of the Lisbon Treaty [notably via articles 188B and 188N], trade agreements will no longer be ratified by national parliaments but by the European parliament—and this provision includes agreements reached at the WTO or anywhere else. The WTO negotiations may get a boost from a mini-Ministerial meeting expected to convene in Geneva later this month. If so, they could clinch a deal to take effect in the fall—by which time the Irish will have already voted. The EU is asking them to vote blindfolded. There will be no opportunities later for misgivings or a change of heart.


1/ Commission Staff Working Document SEC(2006) 1229, 4.10.2006

za: www.caeuc.org


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