What Future for Agriculture?

Article excerpt

EU Agriculture Commisioner Franz Fischler and Secretary of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Margaret Beckett were key speakers at the Congress of European Agriculture conference in Belfast.

Here is a synopsis of what they said.

EU Agriculture Commisioner Franz Fischler The EU is fully committed to the negotiation of a balanced multilateral agreement to further liberalise trade within the framework of the World Trade Organisation.

The despicable terror attacks against the United States two weeks ago have changed nothing about this.

As the world's biggest importer and second biggest exporter of agricultural goods, we have a genuine interest that this trade follows clear and fair rules, which is exactly the purpose of the WTO. Yet, I am concerned because:

How can one talk about an ambitious new round while at the same time the US congress issues yet another farm aid package, leading to a direct subsidisation of the American farmers that is more than three times as high as the European?

What is the point in the CAIRNS group insisting that agriculture should be treated like any other industry, when all the evidence shows the opposite?

What is the point of all this shadow-boxing, when we should be working to ensure that all WTO members, including the developing countries, will benefit from the current negotiations?

Every democratic society has the right to choose its own agricultural policy. What is important in an international context is to limit its trade-distorting effects.

We say "yes" to further liberalisation. But we only say "yes" if all countries move in the same direction and all countries can profit from enhanced trade, including the developing countries.

We say "yes" to further reductions in export subsidies. But we say "yes" provided that other trade distorting export supports that are used by our trading partners are put under equivalent WTO discipline.

To date, it is only the export refund system that has been subject to WTO disciplines. It is time that other forms of trade distorting export support measures such as export credits, state trading enterprises and the abuse of food aid be limited, too.

And we do not say "no" to further cuts in domestic farm support. We say "yes" provided we can continue to support the nonfood producing services of agriculture that are cherished by our citizens; such as environmental protection, landscape maintenance, and the contribution of agriculture to a dynamic rural environment. This has nothing to do with protectionism. This has to do with legitimate concerns of our society.

The fact that we achieved self-sufficiency in food already in the late 1970s meant that we had to re-think our agricultural policy. It is logical to centre agricultural policy around the consumer.

This was the rationale behind Agenda 2000. Based on an analysis of what European citizens want and what farmers need, we have formulated new objectives to our agricultural policy and put them into our agenda.

We want a more competitive agriculture that is able to seize the opportunities of both the internal and world markets We want to improve food safety and quality;

We need fair and stable incomes for those working in agriculture;

We want to integrate environmental goals;

We want to simplify our agricultural policy;

And finally, we want a system that rewards farmers for the services that consumers want them to provide.

We have to ask ourselves:

Are we doing enough for the rural development?

Are we doing enough to improve product quality, or is CAP concentrating too much on quantity?

And are our budget resources being properly distributed between the various sectors?

Agriculture is the vital activity in rural areas. …