Friday, September 05, 2003

From the pages of the Guardian:

The European commission yesterday launched a ferocious attack on poor countries and development campaigners when it dismissed calls for big cuts in Europe's farm protection regime as extreme demands couched in "cheap propaganda".

In a move that threatens to shatter the fragile peace ahead of next week's trade talks in Cancun, Mexico, Franz Fischler, the EU agriculture commissioner, said Brussels would strongly defend its farmers.

He said many recent attacks on the EU's much maligned common agricultural policy (CAP) were"intellectually dishonest" PR stunts.

Mr Fischler's comments came as Britain's trade secretary, Patricia Hewitt, warned that failure at Cancun would be "disastrous for the global economy" and a severe setback in the fight against terrorism and poverty.

Britain believes a deal to cut farm subsidies in the west is the key to developing support for a new global trade deal, and Ms Hewitt made it clear that the government saw recent reforms of the CAP as a good basis for negotiation.

"Rich countries can't preach free trade abroad and have protectionism at home. There is a danger of locking developing countries into poverty because we lock them out of our markets," she said.

Mr Fischler, speaking in Brussels, said that although the EU was keen to give developing countries a better deal he warned that they would get nothing if they persisted with their "extreme" proposals.

Washington and Brussels have tabled a joint proposal on agriculture that would involve far smaller cuts in protectionism than developing countries want. The proposal has been countered by a blueprint from leading developing countries that would involve far more aggressive reductions.

"If I look at the recent extreme proposal co-sponsored by Brazil, China, India and others, I cannot help [getting] the impression that they are circling in a different orbit," Mr Fischler reporters.

"If they want to do business, they should come back to mother earth. If they choose to continue their space odyssey they will not get the stars, they will not get the moon, they will end up with empty hands."

Mr Fischler accused developing countries of demanding that developed countries make drastic changes while they themselves did nothing.

Widening the scope of his attack, he accused non-governmental organisations, which frequently claim the CAP damages the developing world, of "cheap propaganda".

He took issue in particular with campaigners who point out that each EU cow receives $2 a day in subsidies.

"This may be a nice PR stunt but unfortunately this argument is not only intellectually dishonest, it is factually irrelevant. Yes, in the developed world we are spending money on many things. Not because we are all stupid, but because our standard of living is higher.

"What next? Criticising governments for spending public money on hospital beds, costly noise protection walls or fancy trees in parks instead of sending it to Africa? Societies around the world must have the right to choose which public goods and services are important to them."

Fischler has got to be mad to make these sorts of statements. Since when has spending money on domestic public infrastructure been comparable to dumping your agricultural produce on the world markets? The man is a complete and utter idiot.