15 December, 2005

The WTO, EU, US and other acronyms

Caracas Chronicles blogger Francisco has been reporting from the current round of WTO trade talks in Hong Kong. His latest entry is on the arcane and mainly myopic language used by trade diplomats to describe what they're doing--as tends to happen when any field or group becomes very highly specialized (check out some of the funny terms archaeologists get caught up in...they're pretty hilarious...heterodox archaic socio-cultural complexity anyone?).

Yet what struck me the most about the article was this:

The funny thing is that the US is arguably closer to the developing countries' position than to the EU on all of this. The reason is not any newfound philanthropic thrust to the Bush administration: it's just that American agribusiness is big enough and efficient enough to compete in a low-or-no tariff world. European farmers, by and large, are not. For the US, a liberal farm market is a business opportunity. For the EU, it would be a bureaucratic dust bowl.

Which, I think, is pretty interesting. Most people tend to assume that the US is the baddie at the WTO. Bush country and all that. But the reality is that if anyone looks isolated in all this it's Europe. The difference between the US and the Brazil/India proposals are mostly technical in nature - if it was up to them, they could sit down and work out a compromise in half an hour. The real, substantive gap in agriculture is between the US/Brazil/India on the one hand and the EU on the other.
True. Ask anybody who leans slightly to dramatically to the left and they will tell you that in the world of agriculture and trade, the US is the evil head of the orphanage denying Olivier Twist one more bowl of porridge. But it is in fact the EU that stands in the way of a lot of negotiation. As Francisco writes
Fluffy development rhetoric aside, the EU won't seriously consider farther farm trade concessions until they've extracted their pound of flesh on other issues. Some of the US delegates I've met put it even more bluntly: "they know if the conversation is about agriculture they're screwed, they're desperate to change the subject."
At the heart of the matter is the EU's Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) which is even more detrimental to third world agriculture than the US's bloodsucking policies. At the heart of CAP is the French government's nationalistic interest in protecting the romanticized French farmer. Indeed, in current EU talks there's been a lot of headbutting between other countries and France over reforming CAP (the French position being, of course, "Non!").

So, next time you find yourself in a protest march against the WTO, remember that its not the US you are demonstrating against (per say) but Pierre the truffle farmer.

No comments: