Pascal takes a punt

The back-sto­ry to the Commission’s offer[⇒ relat­ed sto­ry] to elim­i­nate agri­cul­tur­al export sub­si­dies is start­ing to emerge. It seems that, in typ­i­cal fash­ion, the Com­mis­sion made an offer that—if it did not actu­al­ly exceed its man­date—leaned some dis­tance for­ward of the con­sen­su­sof Mem­ber states. bq. The let­ter[⇒ relat­ed sto­ry] draft­ed by Lamy and Fis­chler was dis­cussed by EU trade offi­cials on 7 May. Report­ed­ly, France, Ire­land, Bel­gium, and Hun­gary argued at the meet­ing that the Com­mis­sion lacked the man­date to nego­ti­ate a date for elim­i­nat­ing export sub­si­dies. Ger­many, the UK, Den­mark, Swe­den, Fin­land and the Nether­lands all sup­port­ed the ini­tia­tive. France’s agri­cul­ture min­is­ter Herve Gay­mard, at a sep­a­rate occa­sion, stressed that the Com­mis­sion had over­stepped its man­date, and called the ini­tia­tive dan­ger­ous. He said it “sig­nals a degree of flex­i­bil­i­ty even though none of our oth­er trad­ing part­ners show any signs of flex­i­bil­i­ty”. Farm groups in France also voiced strong oppo­si­tion. Jean-Michel Lemetay­er, of FNSEA, the largest farm union in France, said “We refuse to allow agri­cul­ture to be the bar­gain­ing chip in inter­na­tion­al nego­ti­a­tions… They have no right to sell off agri­cul­ture”. Trade sources indi­cat­ed, how­ev­er, that it would be very dif­fi­cult for the EC to with­draw its offer at this point. (“ICTSD”:http://www.ictsd.org/weekly/04–05-13/story1.htm) So Pas­cal Lamy, the EU trade com­mis­sion­er has tak­en a cal­cu­lat­ed risk. He showed in the clos­ing hours[⇒ relat­ed sto­ry] of the Can­cún Min­is­te­r­i­al meet­ing that he is pre­pared to maneu­ver Mem­ber States of the EU into a squeeze play. On that occa­sion secur­ing, at the last minute by phone, their agree­ment to dump a hard-line but icon­ic posi­tion on invest­ment and com­pe­ti­tion pol­i­cy nego­ti­a­tions. He is prob­a­bly count­ing on a pos­i­tive reac­tion from the rest of the world to make it impos­si­ble for the Com­mu­ni­ty to climb down from this offer. His col­league, the agri­cul­ture com­mis­sion­er, Franz Fis­chler is going with him. Fis­chler knows only too well that he needs the exter­nal pres­sure of the Doha negotiations—moving ahead, not stuck in arid diplo­mat­ic debate—to keep inter­nal reform of the Com­mon Agri­cul­tur­al Pol­i­cy (CAP) more or less on track. In an edi­to­r­i­al today, “Agence Europe”:http://www.agenceurope.com/, a newslet­ter whose French Lan­guage edi­tion is the mouth­piece of chau­vin­ism in Euro­pean agri­cul­ture, “calls”:ttp://www.agenceurope.com/Daily/ADI_EN.html the pro­pos­al a “brave wager by the two Euro­pean Com­mis­sion­ers” The leader writer on bal­ance approves the offer but warns that Europe can not make a sim­i­lar con­ces­sion on mar­ket access where it has the ‘inter­ests of the poor­est coun­tries’ to pro­tect. By this he means that the pref­er­ence mar­gins that countries—chiefly ex-Euro­pean colonies in Africa—enjoy in the EU mar­ket would be erod­ed by cuts to high EU pro­tec­tion against imports of e.g. fruit, veg­eta­bles, oilseeds, dairy etc etc from the rest of the world. I recent­ly heard a Kenyan trade offi­cial describe this as the ‘hand­ker­chief argu­ment’. “They slap you in the face.”, she said. “Then they hand you a hand­ker­chief to wipe your tears away … and they expect you to be grate­ful!

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