Mon, Nov 07, 2005 - Page 11 News List

France still insisting on its subsidies

CONTRADICTORY The country's opposition to a reduction in agricultural subsidies is at odds with its claim that it champions the rights of the poor

AFP , PARIS

France's staunch opposition to cutting rich country farm subsidies as part of global trade talks is increasingly incompatible with its claim to defend the interests of developing nations, according to analysts.

"France's position appears more and more schizophrenic," argued Philippe Hugon, of the Institute for International and Strategic Relations, who believes the country is "losing its credibility" by refusing to budge on agriculture.

Alberto Valdes, a researcher at Chile's Catholic University in Santiago, also believes France's attitude towards its partners in the WTO negotiations is "damaging its image."

"It appears increasingly like a proud country that refuses to accept the rules of the game followed by the greater number," he argued.

While the EU is under heavy pressure from its trading partners to agree to cut agricultural subsidies and import tariffs, France has vowed to protect the current system laid down by the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

France regards agriculture as a matter of vital national interest and has said the EU's latest offer in the talks, to reduce its tariffs on farm imports by 35 to 60 percent, is unacceptable.

For Patrick Messerlin, a professor at Sciences Po in Paris, the country is caught in a "double contradiction."

"Outside the country, we say we support the poor yet we don't pursue the policies that would help them most. At home, French farmers are among the most efficient and it is all in our interest to liberalize European agriculture."

At a UN summit in September, President Jacques Chirac joined forces with his Brazilian counterpart Luiz Inacio da Silva to form a coalition of countries committed to fighting poverty.

And yet, Chirac has threatened to oppose any deep cuts to EU support for farmers, of which Brazil would be one the main beneficiaries.

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Brazil would stand to gain US$1.7 billion per year from a 50-percent reduction in tariffs and subsidies across all OECD countries.

"How long will the French head of state be able to advocate development on the international stage, when he is blocking any serious progress on agriculture within the framework of the WTO, of which poor countries would be the first to profit?" asked the French business daily La Tribune.

Stefan Tangermann, head of the agriculture division at the OECD, also criticized France's position.

"Today rich countries pay money to their farmers, which means these farmers take markets away from their colleagues in the developing countries. That of course is unfair," he said.

France, which received US$11.298 billion last year, is the top recipient of EU agricultural subsidies, consuming 22.1 percent of the total farm budget last year, according to the French agricultural ministry.

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy has said Paris is committed to securing benefits for the poorest countries in the WTO talks, while stressing that many of these countries were already exempt from EU import tariffs and would not benefit from the proposed deal.

Tangermann acknowledged that some poor countries that have preferential access to protected Western markets could lose out from the WTO agreement.

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