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Wednesday, 14 November, 2001, 16:44 GMT
WTO talks: Should agricultural subsidies be abolished?
With the future of the world trading system hanging in the balance, agriculture has emerged as a central issue as talks to launch a new trade round enter their final day in Doha, Qatar.Disclaimer: The BBC will put up as many of your comments as possible but we cannot guarantee that all e-mails will be published. The BBC reserves the right to edit comments that are published.
Developing countries and other major producers from the Cairns group of agricultural exporting nations, including Canada and Australia, want western markets to open up for their products.
These countries are pressing for a deal which says the aim of the negotiations is the "substantial reduction in, with a view towards phasing out, agricultural export subsidies."
The EU is especially under pressure to abandon its tough line on agriculture. But the French economy minister Laurent Fabius said that "no European" could accept such a clause, as it implies a pre-determined end-point for the negotiation.
Should it be the aim of the trade talks to eliminate all agricultural subsidies? Do you think trade negotiators will break the deadlock on the agriculture issue?
In as much as trade forces people to "get on" with their neighbours and the international community as a whole, abolishing subsidies on farm produce will force countries to be co-operative and respectful of others in order to survive. All very reasonable - and a worthwhile objective. However, farming is a main industry of many developing countries; indeed, the backbone of many an economy; if those economies are reduced to penury by an inability to compete with a more competitive neighbour (inevitable, given the nature of free markets), then the purpose of free trade will have been defeated. Being able to feed the people is a prime duty of all governments, so defending that ability through taxes and subsidies has to be applied as appropriate. All countries/ economies have to find their "competitive advantage" in the world, but not to the detriment of being able to feed their people.
With 40 per cent of the European budget going to subsidize the farming industry, there are literally billions of reasons to end this prop to the inefficient. Added to which, corruption (as in the olive oil industry) and the needs of African and other developing world farmers - makes the moral reasons for ending this ridiculous situation irresistible.
Yes we should abolish subsidies!
But we should also set certain standards in food production, even if it is just proper labelling so we know what we are getting and how and where it was produced.
The free market only works when the buyer knows what they are buying and can make an informed choice.
The World Trade Organisation is not an objective body but one run by a predetermined group of nations. They are not part of the UN or any charity and as such do not need to look after any needs but their own. The EU, by example, has grown because countries near each other eased their trade restrictions and standardised tariffs and prices on certain goods. Perhaps those countries fond of victimising themselves against the overpowering WTO should expand their local level of trade rather than expecting the big economies to adapt their successful agreements for their benefit.
It is important here to distinguish between subsidies on the home market, which make our EU goods more expensive for ourselves, but help our farmers, and shields us and them from foreign goods - bad economically but politically reasonable - we pay to support our farmers. We also pay to export subsidies, which make our goods cheaper in other countries than what they cost us to produce. Export subsidies mean that EU agricultural goods are sold on Eastern European or third world markets at much lower prices than they should be, creating unfair competition for local producers as well as producers from third countries. The end result is that export subsidies help maintain an oversized and not very efficient production here in the EU, while costing money not only to EU taxpayers, but to people in other countries as well.
Yes, agricultural subsidies should be abolished - they are just as pernicious as import tariffs and other market distorting mechanisms. If you can't compete with the world's best, get out of the game.
Agricultural products should be distributed freely as long as they are of certified quality. When there is no risk to humans from the products, the products should have a free route to the global markets.
Yes, it is a massive injustice towards developing countries that we insist that they buy our manufactured goods but won't allow them markets for their agricultural products which make up a huge chunk of their economy. Instead we subsidize substandard farmers here at home to produce poor quality food at inflated prices.
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