France looks 'schizophrenic' on poverty issues

7th November 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Nov 6 (AFP) - France's staunch opposition to cutting rich country farm subsidies as part of global trade talks is increasingly incompatible with its claim to defend the interests of developing nations, according to analysts.

PARIS, Nov 6 (AFP) - France's staunch opposition to cutting rich country farm subsidies as part of global trade talks is increasingly incompatible with its claim to defend the interests of developing nations, according to analysts.

"France's position appears more and more schizophrenic," argued Philippe Hugon, of the Institute for International and Strategic Relations, who believes the country is "losing its credibility" by refusing to budge on agriculture.

Alberto Valdes, a researcher at Chile's Catholic University in Santiago, also believes France's attitude towards its partners in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) negotiations is "damaging its image".

"It appears increasingly like a proud country that refuses to accept the rules of the game followed by the greater number," he argued.

While the European Union is under heavy pressure from its trading partners to agree to cut agricultural subsidies and import tariffs, France has vowed to protect the current system laid down by the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

France regards agriculture as a matter of vital national interest and has said the EU's latest offer in the talks, to reduce its tariffs on farm imports by 35 to 60 percent, is unacceptable.

For Patrick Messerlin, a professor at Sciences Po in Paris, the country is caught in a "double contradiction."

"Outside the country, we say we support the poor yet we don't pursue the policies that would help them most. At home, French farmers are among the most efficient and it is all in our interest to liberalise European agriculture."

At a United Nations summit in September, president Jacques Chirac joined forces with his Brazilian counterpart Luiz Inacio da Silva to form a coalition of countries committed to fighting poverty.

And yet, Chirac has threatened to oppose any deep cuts to EU support for farmers, of which Brazil would be one the main beneficiaries.

According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, Brazil would stand to gain US $1.7bn (EUR 1.4bn) per year from a 50-percent reduction in tariffs and subsidies across all OECD countries.

"How long will the French head of state be able to advocate development on the international stage, when he is blocking any serious progress on agriculture within the framework of the WTO, of which poor countries would be the first to profit?" asked the French business daily La Tribune.

Stefan Tangermann, head of the agriculture division at the OECD, also criticised France's position.

"Today rich countries pay money to their farmers, which means these farmers take markets away from their collegues in the developing countries. That of course is unfair," he said.

France, which received EUR 9.418bn in 2004, is the top recipient of EU agricultural subsidies, consuming 22.1 percent of the total farm budget last year, according to the French agricultural ministry.

French foreign minister Philippe Douste-Blazy has said Paris is committed to securing benefits for the poorest countries in the WTO talks, while stressing that many of these countries were already exempt from EU import tariffs and would not benefit from the proposed deal.

Tangermann acknowledged that some poor countries that have preferential access to protected Western markets could lose out from the WTO agreement, in particular members of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) grouping.

Poor countries that are net food importers would also have to pay more for these products, he said -- but he stressed that the EU has promised such countries compensation payments.

"Developing countries overall as a group will gain from reform in the rich countries in agriculture. Farmers in the developing countries will certainly gain," Tangermann said.

"While the biggest gain will go to large landowners, we will still see a reduction of poverty because workers in agriculture and agribusiness will also gain from better employment chances."

WTO negotiators are struggling to find consensus ahead of a meeting in Hong Kong in December where they hope to approve the outlines of a multilateral trade liberalisation accord that would take effect in 2006.

The WTO talks were launched in the Qatari capital Doha in late 2001 but have foundered ever since, notably on measures to reduce agricultural subsidies and import tariffs.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news


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