Monday, May 26, 2008


The Press Association runs a story today on the increase in the number of cocaine users admitted to hospital, which has "more than quadrupled in eight years". Official government data show there were 740 cocaine-induced health emergencies in 2006/07, compared with 161 in 1998/99.

This is picked up by The Sun, which does a short, factual report, and it is also carried by The Daily Telegraph. That paper, however, uses the story as a "hook" to remind us that:

Natasha Collins, a children's television presenter, died in January after bingeing on cocaine and alcohol and falling unconscious in a bath of scalding hot water. The 31-year-old's body was found by her fiancé, Mark Speight, also a television presenter, the morning after "partying" with her on cocaine, sleeping pills, wine and vodka.
Earlier (on 23 May) The Sun had also focused on the "celeb" aspect of this issue, using rock star Amy Winehouse as a foil, writing that she was "not just wrecking her own life in a blizzard of cocaine". The Colombian government, the paper claimed, said the star's drug habit — and those of thousands more Brits — was laying waste to their nation.

This harks back to this story which was also carried by The Daily Telegraph on 23 May, reporting the destruction of rain forest by the Colombian drug cartels.

Then, readers will recall, Francisco Santos Calderon, Columbian vice-president, complained that part of the problem was the EU's Common Agricultural Policy. "If our farmers and our peasants were able to export to the European Union without the tariffs and without the barriers," he said, "we would have a farming sector that would be more competitive and a lot of peasants would not go into drug-growing."

However, that was on Friday and today is Monday. The corporate memory of The Telegraph does not stretch that far back so today's story plops out in isolation, with no reference to the article written so long ago that it is now a distant memory.

But, of course, the stories are linked. Apart from the broader issues of drugs policy – whether they should be legalised, etc., etc., - one acknowledged control mechanism is to deal with the supply end, cutting back on the amount of the drug available.

On the one hand, Mr Santos complains that his farmers, unable to export produce to the EU, resort to coca growing as a means of bolstering their income. On the other, we also know that farmers get paid a relatively small amount for growing coca. The big profits are made by the processors and the middle-men.

Ergo, it stands to reason that a benign policy of permitting Colombia to export high value agricultural products to EU member states, and directing aid towards encouraging land reforms and marketing infrastructures, could have a very significant impact on the flow of cocaine to this country. Arguably, the costs of such a programme would be less than the economic damage cause by the drug – with the beneficial side-effect of reducing the damage to virgin rain forest.

But, hey ho! We do not have a policy on Colombia. Aid and trade negotiations are channelled through the EU – part of its external relations portfolio.

For the 2001-2006 period, the EU pumped €105 million aid into Colombia, including financing "regional and local authority peace laboratories" – and another €160 million has been earmarked in the period 2007-2013.

In 2004 alone, European aid was €420 million, with nearly 40 percent contributed by the EU. This was topped up by member states, German giving nearly 20 percent, but Britain weighed in with considerably less than one percent (0.31%).

Crucially, though, while the EU claims that 64 percent of Colombia’s exports to the European Union are already completely exempt because of the tariff reduction granted under the "most favoured nation" arrangement, the big exceptions are bananas, meat and sugar.

The EU's banana regime, the commission admits, "has caused significant friction with Colombian banana producers." But, the other "barriers" of which Mr Santos complains, also exist. The commission notes:

As regards its external dimension, Community policy aims to ensure a high level of protection for the health, safety and economic interests of EU consumers. The implementation of this principle is perceived by some third countries or economic sectors as a non-tariff trade protection measure that obstructs the access of some products – mainly agricultural – to European markets.
The EU response to this is to "support compliance with technical rules on national products, so as to promote their marketing both nationally and internationally." But there is no way it going to reduce what are very often irrational and overly complex rules which, in fact, small producers can never actually meet.

So, while European money pours into Colombia, very little of it addresses the main economic issues. The result is that legitimate trade (as a percentage of GDP) between Colombia and EU member states is actually falling (and agricultural products drastically so) while, as far as we know, the flow of drugs is increasing – in line with the destruction of the rain forest.

Yet, as a recipient of this flow of drugs, there is absolutely nothing the UK government can do to interrupt the source. We cannot intervene, as the programme is managed by the EU. Nor can we unilaterally open our borders to Colombian produce, as we are bound by EU trade agreements – which are the basic cause of the problem.

Wearily, we remark that nothing of this will get into the pages of our loathsome newspapers, and neither will we see any of our provincial politicians argue that, to deal with the drugs problem, we must instigate our own bilateral arrangements with drug-producing countries.

This is yet another example of the dead hand of the EU – but one, as always, we mustn't talk about.


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