LETTER FROM ONTARIO
The capital of the countryside

Farm & Countryside Commentary by Elbert van Donkersgoed

Editor's NOTE

Elbert van Donkersgoed is the Strategic Policy Advisor of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario, Canada. CFFO is supported by 4,500 family farmers across the province of Ontario.

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September 22, 2003: The European Union is not about to take the rap for the failed world trade talks, recently held in Cancun, Mexico. So says Franz Fischler, the member of the European Commission with responsibilities for agriculture. During a visit to Guelph last week, Fischler gave a spirited defense of the European Union's recently reformed Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and EU's view that they are well on the way to a trade-friendly farm policy.

The Doha Round of trade talks is in trouble, not because countries are unwilling to reform their farms policies. As Fischler pointed out, the EU has just agreed to the most dramatic reform of their CAP since the EU was created. The United States did a dramatic about-face in its latest Farm Bill and is underwriting U.S. farm production with billions in direct subsidies. Even here in Canada, farm policy is in the midst of a major rewrite. With much grumbling, provincial governments are signing onto the Agricultural Policy Framework and its objective to make Canada the world leader in food safety, innovation and environmentally-responsible production.

The Doha Round is in trouble because the previous agricultural trade talks, the Uruguay Round, relied heavily on defining various farm subsidies as more or less trade distorting. It created a concept of boxes -- red, amber, green and blue - with red denoting those policies that must be stopped. It established the principle that farm support systems are not equally trade distorting. The E.U., U.S., and Canada redesigned programs to qualify for the less trade distorting designations; and now all claim to have policies that are the least trade distorting.

The Doha Round is in trouble because farm policy cannot be reduced to trade policy.

Consider the agreement by EU member states on the principle of severing the link between farm payments and farm production. It allowed Fischler to argue that the CAP will become less trade distorting. At the Guelph meeting, Fischler identified the primary motivation for the change, "From 2005 onwards, the majority of farm payments will no longer be linked to production. Instead, they will come in the form of a single payment that is dependent not on production, but on our farmers providing the broader services that our citizens demand of agriculture: food safety and quality, environmental maintenance, and animal welfare."

EU farm policy is about the broader social role of their farmers. Fischler pointed out that farming maintains their countryside, the capital for their tourist industry. Without farmers, maintaining the landscape translates into hefty public expense.

Trade talks are about fixing markets. Farm subsidies have an impact on markets but they are about the social fabric of the countryside. __________

Text of Franz Fischler's talk in Guelph
Summary of the EU's Common Agricultural Policy reform

 

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