For an independant long term european agricultural policy by Jean-Pierre Estival

 

Agricultural issues are among the most significant matters and challenges related to the governance of our world. To a great extent, peace or war in the future, and consequently, the stability of our world, will mainly depend on the adequacy of the response to these problems. We cannot forget the accurate prophecy of Henry Kissinger in 1970 ‘’ Control oil and you’ll control nations, control food and you’ll control the people ». This prophecy has proved to be partly true. The various riots which took place in a lot of emerging countries at the beginning of last year remind us of the enormous importance of these issues. As you know, as a result of this upsurge of violence, some countries have rationed rice, others corn or wheat, some others have willingly reduced their exports to guarantee their domestic consumption It is no denying that revolutions happen when basic physical needs of human beings are not carefully provided for. It is still the case today. Of course the seriousness of the problem is gradually vanishing now, being superseded by the appalling world economic crisis, but, for sure, when this crisis is over, agricultural issues will become again the bone of contention between nations: the crisis will hit us again, from rich to poor countries, we are actually in a » very deep hole ‘’. New riots will certainly take place.

 

The European way
Europe, as one of the most important world markets -in terms of consumption- and one of the leading regrouping of nations, must tackle the problem and address this challenge in a correct way, the European way, taking into account all the necessary parameters, far from the present ongoing ideologies.

 

On the one hand, liberalism, and moreover, neo liberalism, has always considered agriculture as a normal business similar to any other activities, to which the basic economic principles of a world specialisation and of free trade should be applied. The theoretical approach is certainly correct but the excess of liberalism has led to gigantic failures in emerging countries specialised in mono productions and obliged to import their food from developed countries through uncontrolled arrogant multinational companies, increasing therefore their dependence. When the prices of these imported products have reached unexpected and unacceptable levels, as it was the case in 2 006 and 2 007, these countries have been unable to purchase the quantity of food necessary to feed their own people, paving the way for revolts and riots. For emerging countries a total dependence on developed countries is not the correct answer to the problem. Emerging countries should not be made totally dependant on foreign markets dominated by regardless transnational’s whose aim is to increase their profits. These emerging countries, because of the fragility of their economy, must have a right to develop a basic agricultural production to meet their own needs even if a part of their activity is dedicated to exportations. It is their only way to survive presently.

 

On the other hand, other nations have considered agriculture as a ‘’ green power » and consequently as a political instrument to increase their power in the world. The US and recently Russia, seem to be in favour of this concept, hoping to impose their will and their prices on world markets. Such a vision which is likely to lead directly to a cartelization of markets and to a manipulation of the world supply, as it is the case for oil, and may be for gas in the near future, is not acceptable in a democratic world . Agriculture could become an instrument of a new category of war. We must make every effort to push back this kind of approach.

 

Lastly, some nations think they must preserve an activity using still an important labour force and doing so, believe they increase their resistance to international unrest and turmoil through protectionism. They think and act in terms of risks whose levels should / must be reduced as much of possible for their nationals. Such a strategy can only be a short term strategy, but it goes without saying that new risks stand for a new parameter to be taken into account in a new realistic approach as the European level. We have already paid for this lack of realism for our supply of gas at the European level.

 

A long- term resilient strategy
Europe, in this context, must set up its own strategy, a long- term resilient strategy. It is theoretically true that free trade is, in the long run, the most satisfactory response to the problem, provided that these principles are applied in a very intelligent and flexible way. Emerging countries should be given the right to produce one part of the agricultural products for their own needs as long as they remain fragile in economic terms. They should not totally depend on uncontrolled multinational companies and world market prices that they are unable to control. Developed countries should also remember that the world in which they live is no more the peaceful world of the liberal economists of past centuries: they should reason not only in terms of liberalisation but also in terms of defence and resistance to identified risks. Protection should be made possible when real risks are identified .They should be given the right to defend their interests, if necessary. Europe needs consequently to push forward a concept of a ‘’reasoned and reasonable liberalisation » .Such a concept remains to be defined and constructed

 

The world has become too complex to get a clear-cut answer: total liberalisation or protectionism are not the right answers. The European strategy must be optimised and the solution is just in between.

 

Last but not least, the production of ethanol or of similar products, tending to devote one part of the agricultural production to industrial aims, should be reduced as much as possible since it brings about the disappearance of huge parts of rainforests in the world contributing consequently to climatic disturbances and disruptions, not to mention disturbances related to the supply of foods to human beings.

 

Such are the guide lines, in our opinion, of a specific and independent long-term European agricultural policy. Let me add a new expression » Yes we can ! »

 

 

Jean-Pierre ESTIVAL
Economist
European president of AEC

 

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