Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Not a minor spat

For months now, we have been warning that the French would be targeting the CAP as soon as they were in the driving seat.

Now it is coming to pass with the very public spat between Sarkozy and Mandelson over the WTO Doha round.

This has been building up for some time now, ever since the European Council on 19 June when the French president took a swipe at Mandelson over the Irish referendum. With the WTO talks have been played strongly by the Irish farmers, Sarkozy was keen to put the trade commissioner in the frame.

There was nothing accidental in this – and nor was it personal. There is a French agenda here and anyone getting in the way was going to get both barrels.

The second barrel came during a television appearance to mark France's accession to the EU presidency, when Sarkozy accused Mandelson – and WTO chief Pascal Lamy - of seeking a WTO deal that would lead to a 20 percent cut in European agricultural production and a ten percent reduction in its agricultural exports.

"That is 100,000 jobs lost. I will not let that happen," Sarkozy said, adding that such cuts were unacceptable: "in a world where there are 800 million poor people who cannot satisfy their hunger and where a child dies every 30 seconds from hunger".

It was yesterday that Mandelson "hit back" on BBC television's Newsnight, claiming (rightly) that he was being "undermined". "Europe's negotiating position in the world trade talks is being weakened and I regret that," he declared, then going on to say:

It is very disappointing because the mandate on which I am negotiating in the world trade talks - and trying on Europe's behalf to bring them to a successful conclusion - has been agreed by all the member states.
What has barely registered however, is that Sarkozy was not alone in his attack on Mandelson's position, having been joined by Angela Merkel yesterday, before the Newsnight programme. She was saying that "an agreement would not be reached on the back of German agriculture," adding that her government would accept the agreement only if it provided a "fair and balanced offer."

Actually, we have been here before. But, with the next WTO meeting scheduled for 21 July, now is not the time to unstitch the "common position" laboriously agreed by the 27 member states – at least, not if you want the talks to succeed.

But, of course, neither Merkel nor – particularly – Sarkozy want success, hence the latter inventing spurious statistics which the EU commissioner has been at pains to rebut. Far from costing 20 percent of production and 100,000 jobs, Mandelson says stiffly, that the figures are "not recognised by the commission." EU agriculture production, he says, "would decrease on average by 1.1 percent, whilst employment in agriculture would come down by 2.5 percent."

Pointedly, Mandelson reminds Sarkozy that "This assessment was shared with Member States in March 2008", ostensibly leaving the French president nowhere to go - not that that will stop him. As for the tugging of the heart strings, with the reference to "a world where there are 800 million poor people who cannot satisfy their hunger and where a child dies every 30 seconds from hunger", Sarkozy is being more than a little disingenuous.

Imperfect though it is, the agreement on the table is an important and desperately necessary liberalisation measure, which will do much to kick-start developing world economies. And, as we have pointed out here and on our sister blog, the lack of this liberalisation is causing real damage as well as costing lives.

Mandelson spells it out in detail in his rebuttal of Sarkozy's charge, saying:

The Doha round is a global negotiation which will stabilise and lock in the openness that has guaranteed our welfare over decades, and has lifted 100s of millions of people around the world out of poverty. This is not about individuals – not me, not Pascal Lamy, not President Sarkozy. It is about giving the global economy a shot in the arm in order to be able to face the current economic pressures and help keep the global economy buoyant in years to come.

Food protectionism will not feed the world. A fair, balanced and carefully sequenced liberalisation of agricultural markets over time can contribute to solving the current food crisis. It will enhance efficiency of food production and ensure better access to food. The DDA is central to such liberalisation. We have not sacrificed European farm production in negotiations, but rather have been successful in defending core interests while opening new markets.

A Doha deal would also contribute to fairer farm trade by ensuring that poor farmers would no longer be forced to compete with subsidized farm goods from the rich world. Their production would rise, and South-South trade in food would be given a boost.
Mandelson warns that disunity within the EU would get in the way of progress towards a successful conclusion to the seven-year Doha Round. "If we fall back and retreat from our position," he warns, "that is simply going to result in others stepping back from their own offers, walking away from the negotiating table, and it will bring the world trade talks to almost certain collapse."

He adds: "And we will see that collapse at the ministerial meeting that is going to take place in a few weeks' time in Geneva. That's how urgent this is."

The trouble is that is what both Merkel and Sarkozy are relying on. Their core votes come from the farming lobbies in their respective countries and both know full well that these have the capacity to cause endless political strife. Thus, both are prepared to sacrifice the millions in developing countries who need this deal, all for narrow domestic political advantage.

This is not a soap opera – this is for real and a great deal is at stake. Sarkozy cannot be allowed to get away with this.


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