Tuesday, July 05, 2005

End it, don't mend it 

It's a deal:
"Let's join hands as wealthy industrialised nations and say to the world, 'We are going to get rid of all our agricultural subsidies together.' We are willing to do so and we will do so with our fine friends in the European Union."
(hat tip: Tim Blair) That's a gauntlet thrown by President Bush. Forget Kyoto and debt forgiveness and aid - this is the "big 'un" - the one action that can have the biggest impact on the plight of the developing world. And it's also a clever move by Bush, who is thus shifting the onus onto Europe, knowing full well that the hypocrites will not take the bait. Cynics might also say that Bush can feel very courageous making such proposals precisely because the European rejection (or, more likely, ignoring) of the proposal will absolve him of the need to take on the powerful agricultural interests very well represented in the Congress. But it's nice to dream once in a while of a world where so much of our taxpayers' money is not going to subsidize the pork (both literally and metaphorically) and skew the international food markets. Yes, Virginia, a developed country can have a vibrant agricultural sector with only minimal state support - just look at Australia.

As Australia's Trade Minister Mark Vaile said in a press release today:
President Bush's comments show he is prepared to show real leadership in addressing global poverty, and I urge EU leaders to follow suit...

Debt forgiveness and aid are admirable but it is time the world's leaders attacked one of the major causes of poverty - agricultural protectionism.

Oxfam argues that total subsidies to farmers in rich countries, particularly in the EU and the US, amount to around US$300 billion a year -– more than the combined income of 1.2 billion of the world's poorest people.

Government support in both the EU and the US totals $180 billion. As a percentage of farm income, 33% of it is government support in the EU, and 18% in the US. Australia provides just 4% or $1.1 billion.


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