Reform of the European Common Agricultural Policy post-2013: United Nations Brussels Team contribution to the public consultation

The United Nations team in Brussels(1) welcomes the Commissioner’s invitation to contribute views on the reform of the EU Common Agricultural Policy post-2013.

Taking a global perspective

Particularly welcome is the clarity given by the Commissioner that Europe’s Common Agricultural Policy is more than just a policy for farmers. However, Europe’s CAP is also more than just a policy for Europe. Over 1 billion people go hungry in the developing world. Through reform of its agricultural policy, Europe has a major opportunity to contribute sustainable solutions to today’s critical challenges of poverty and hunger. Taking a global perspective in the CAP reform will enhance Europe’s role as a positive and progressive force for human development, enabling poor countries to lift themselves out of poverty. This is in keeping with European solidarity and in Europe’s own interest. Public opinion surveys consistently underline the solidarity of European citizens and residents towards the developing world.

The moment could not be more opportune. Europe has international commitments that reform of the CAP can help it meet. In 2000, 189 heads of state and government including all EU Member States, agreed to the Millennium Development Goals, a compact between developing and developed countries to halve world poverty. Goal 8 for a Global Partnership for Development commits the developed world to improve access to their markets for developing countries(2). Whilst there has been progress in agreements on some aspects of Goal 8, implementation has severely lagged. Through the CAP reform, Europe can make a major contribution to make to the Millennium Development Goals to halve world poverty by 2015. 

Policy Coherence for Development

Europe’s Policy Coherence for Development, enshrined in the EU since its earliest period and reaffirmed in the Lisbon Treaty, represents a highly progressive policy approach by Europe, whereby all non-aid policies should be consistent with aid and development policy objectives. At present, Europe’s agricultural policy is at odds with its aid and development policies.  Reform of the CAP that embraces the global perspective, will help Europe realise the considerable potential of its commitment to policy coherence for development.

Some facts:

  • Global hunger is not the result of insufficient food supplies but of their uneven distribution across the globe: 1.02 billion people are going hungry entirely unnecessarily.
  • The forthcoming United Nations MDG Gap Task Force Report expresses concern about the harmful effects on MDGs of the continued high level of trade-distorting subsidies by OECD countries. Even when subsidies are targeted at locally consumed products, they still represent a barrier to trade and thus limit access for developing country exports. By boosting production in developed countries, subsidies crowd out developing country production and lower commodity prices below their market rate. Furthermore, subsidized agricultural imports from developed countries compete unfairly with local producers. They can therefore contribute to undermining the productive capacities of poor countries, deterring investments in their agricultural sectors. Many of the above factors potentially aggravate food security problems.
  • 70% of the world’s poor live in rural areas: a healthy agricultural sector is of paramount importance to their sustainable development and food security and to reducing global poverty.

The UN in Brussels recognises the EU has made progress on subsidies and tariffs affecting poor countries. However, in many areas, market access remains insufficient. Much remains to be done to remove remaining distortions, whilst EU rules and regulations are frequently too complex for producers in developing countries to navigate.

Market Access:

Efforts under the Doha Development Round to substantially eliminate all forms of export subsidies are welcomed, though these efforts must be transformed into reality. The CAP post-2013 needs to be designed assuming a successful WTO Doha Development Round that ensures expanded market access opportunities for developing countries into developed country markets, and includes the opportunity and ability of developing countries to perform competitively in their own national and regional markets.

Efforts made to reduce tariffs in order to open doors to imports from developing countries should not be jeopardized by putting in place new non-tariff barriers. For example, stringent standards not fully justified by health and safety concerns should be reviewed since they are often too costly for small farmers from the poorest developing countries to apply and therefore de facto shut them out of European markets.

Better harmonization should be ensured between private standards and official food regulations for health and safety, including traceability requirements.

Food security:

The recent food crisis, and predicted changes in future production patterns due to climatic variability, all point to the importance of global food security as one critical lens through which CAP reform needs to be viewed.

A reformed CAP must shape support to European producers in ways that give them the flexibility to make production choices that respond to both domestic and global short-term demand signals and long-term trends. However, EU support to its own producers cannot be at the expense of the developing world. Full consideration needs to be given to the requirements of poor countries, many of which desperately need to re-build their own agricultural productive capacity after two decades of neglect. Access to European markets for their agricultural exports is a key stimulus to their own production as well as generating much-needed foreign exchange. Due consideration should be given to this point in the global trading system and negotiations.

Climate change

The UN in Brussels welcomes the recognition in the consultation on the importance of agriculture in the mitigation of climate change, including to contribute to the shift towards a low-carbon resource efficient economy for Europe. Indeed, the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy presents offers a major opportunity to promote “green growth”, reducing environmental problems whilst generating opportunities to develop environmentally sustainable agricultural production.

Direct support under the CAP should, however, be carefully targeted to practices that clearly generate mitigation benefits. It should also be implemented in ways that avoid undue discrimination for other countries’ products and services.

Climate change is already threatening fragile food security ecosystems throughout the developing world. The poorest and vulnerable are affected most because they rely on climate-sensitive sectors, such as agriculture, and often lack capacity to adapt to disaster risks. Climate change requires collective action and also substantial investment in mitigation and adaptation efforts.

In taking a global perspective to its CAP reform, the EU can look beyond Europe for opportunities to promote mitigation and adaptation measures in the developing world.

(1) The comments provided are those of the UN Team in Belgium (constituting 24 agencies, funds and programmes plus the UN University in Bruges and the UN Regional Information Centre). They draw  upon inter alia work of the UN Millennium Campaign

(2) Millennium Development Goal 8 commits countries to: an open, rule-based, predictable, non-discriminatory trading system; to address the special needs of least developed countries including tariff and quota free access for their exports; to improve market access for developing and least developed countries, including reducing tariffs on agricultural products; to review agricultural subsidies; and to aid for trade capacity building.