segunda-feira, setembro 22, 2003
Unfair to the Third World
[F]or reasons far from obvious, agriculture has been excluded from the enriching processes of globalisation. Developed countries, almost without exception, have decided that farmers are a special case, and must be preserved as items of living heritage. If farmers cannot keep their business afloat in the face of international competition, why should they not be expected, like the straw-hat-makers before them, to retrain for something else?
Various arguments are advanced as to why farmers should be treated as a special case. There is the strategic argument: that we need to protect national food supplies in the event of war or some other catastrophe. But wouldn?t our chances of survival be better if we provided every family with an allotment where they could grow their own potatoes rather than produce mountains of unwanted and inedible rape seed? It is argued, too, that farmers need to be supported because they ?look after the countryside?. Wouldn?t it be better, aesthetically and environmentally, to allow prairie fields to return to the oak forests they once were?
Nor can it be said that the consumer benefits in some way from agricultural subsidy. On the contrary, he pays for protectionism through higher prices and less choice. It stands to reason that no country can derive a net benefit from subsidising its own exports: every pound paid to American farmers comes out of the pockets of American taxpayers.
This is an equation that is understood in New Zealand, where subsidies were phased out in the 1980s and barriers to food imports simultaneously lifted. Some grumbling farmers promptly went out of business. The rest, however, embraced the free market. Two decades on, the agricultural sector is booming. Far from succumbing to foreign competition, New Zealand farmers seem to manage to ship their lamb halfway round the world and still compete with Farmer Giles of Chipping Sodbury. Ministers are forever buzzing off on Eurostar to see whether our European partners manage their schools, prisons or sewerage systems better than us. When it comes to agriculture, they should give Europe a miss and jump on a plane to New Zealand.
posted by Miguel Noronha 4:40 da tarde
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