‘The EU should not import food from other continents, nor should it be exporting food to other continents. Europe best serves global food security by being food secure on its own.’ This is at present the view of many NGO’s and Olivier de Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, and they have some plausible arguments to support their view. Nevertheless, specialist Alan Matthews considers the focus on EU self-sufficiency ’inconsistent and inefficient’, and ‘disastrous for global food security’.
Matthews, economist and Professor Emeritus of European Agricultural Policy from Ireland, wrote a thoughtful piece on the development interest in the CAP reform debate. He shows that policy coherence for development is not always simple. One thing is clear: the CAP, after former and present reforms, has much less impact on development in poor countries compared to before, and less compared to other issues like world market volatility, climate change and biofuel policies. This also means the development interest has not had as great a profile in the CAP debate. Matthews regrets the fact that the agricultural committee of the European Parliament COMAGRI rejected a proposal by the Development Committee. The European Parliament plenary in March (11-14 March) could ‘mend’ this.
So please read his entire blogpost. Below I have lifted three paragraphs from his blogpost, about food self-sufficiency versus world trade.
The fact that trade distortions due to EU agricultural policy are no longer very important (which is not to say that the remaining incoherence should not be removed) has led some development NGOs, and indeed Mr De Schutter, to focus on alleged incoherence arising from agricultural trade flows as such, rather than distortions to these flows due to the Common Agricultural Policy.
This new line of criticism argues that the EU should not be a food exporter (because this makes it more difficult for developing countries to strengthen their agricultural sectors) but neither should the EU be a food importer (because it increases pressure on natural resources in developing countries, only benefits large exporters in developing countries thus marginalising smaller farmers and allows commodity buyers to play off foreign producers against domestic producers thus increasing their share of added value in the food chain). This infatuation with national food self-sufficiency policies (which De Schutter calls ‘relocalisation’) is both inconsistent and inefficient and would be disastrous for global food security.
Trade plays a number of important roles in guaranteeing food security. The places where populations live and where food can be efficiently produced are not necessarily the same. Even with accelerated agricultural growth in countries that rely on imports these imbalances will continue. Trade allows millions of farmers everywhere, many of them small farmers, to enjoy higher incomes and thus greater food security than would otherwise be the case. Trade is also an essential buffer against domestic production fluctuations which are projected to become even more frequent, particularly in developing countries, as global temperatures rise as a result of climate change.
Trade is not a panacea. It also brings risks and redistributes income between different population groups, so policies to manage risk, to provide adjustment assistance, to protect environmental resources and to deliver social safety nets are a necessary accompaniment to open trade policies. Protectionism is rarely an efficient solution and, as we have learned from the CAP, the benefits go primarily to the better-off farmers. Poor people (and hence the food insecure) typically encompass both food buyers and sellers so border measures are particularly blunt instruments. The prominence of ill-conceived and irresponsible positions in different flavours (food sovereignty, food self-sufficiency, relocalisation) has undoubtedly contributed to the marginalisation of the development interest in the current CAP debate.
Remarkably, Matthews does not include the argument self-sufficiency advocates often use as most important: that trade depends on longhaul transport causing not only emissions, but also nutrient exports and leaks in nutrient cycles.