The words of an enraged Tory youth

Friday, January 05, 2007

Cameron's confusion concerning CAP

Dave Cameron recently addressed a farmer's conference in Oxford and publicly praised "food patriotism" and buying British food. He apparently believes that buying local food can help end climate change by reducing the carbon emissions created by long distance transport. He also seems to think that "food security" is important and the preservation of British agriculture is an essential element of this. He even went so far as to praise France's protection of its rural heritage.

Very protectionist words from a confessed "free marketeer". Mr Cameron is pulling in two different directions with his embryonic agricultural policy. On the one hand, he appeals to farmers by supporting the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), but on the other hand he has professed his commitment to free trade. Can the two be reconciled?

Support for British farmers need not interfere with agricultural trade. The nations that Britain would want to import from, third world states in Africa and the Caribbean, produce mainly crops that cannot be grown in Britain (sugar cane, bananas etc.). The reason that Britain cannot currently pursue both support for domestic farmers and international trade agreements freely can be summed up in one word, France.

Ok, this is a huge generalisation, but French influence in the EU has a lot to do with some of the more objectionable aspects of the CAP. The ridiculous banana and sugar subsidies are one example. The EU subsidises these products and has erected tariffs against their import, but if this is so, where do Europe's bananas come from? These protectionist measures exist because of France's tropical territories such as Guiana and Guadeloupe. A large percentage of the EU's bananas come from these tiny and far flung regions. This policy disadvantages all the EU's potential third world trading partners as well as European consumers for the sake of a few thousand French banana farmers.

If the UK had its own agricultural policy, it could protect its farmers, who are the essential guardians of the countryside, while opening its borders to the import of more exotic products. However, the power of France in the EU prevents reform of the CAP. Cameron understands the need to scrap tariffs and export subsidies, but still praises France's agricultural stance.

Britain needs to make more noise in the EU and must press for further CAP reform. Cameron needs to strike a balanced stance that will appeal to both farmers and consumers. The EU needs a Common Agricultural Policy that will embrace the needs of farmers and the pressing need for increased world trade. With the right reforms, European agriculture can become a legitimate and competitive industry, but not if we Tories keep praising France.