A leader in last week’s Economist summed up the case against farm subsidies perfectly. It started by noting the absurdity of farmers using world foot shortages – and consequent high prices – as an excuse.
For years the farm lobby have justified their subsidies on the grounds that low food prices meant farmers couldn’t make a living and that the countryside would be left to ruin without government money (ignoring that fact that their “subsidized overproduction” was partly responsible for low prices).
But now prices are high, the same farm lobbies say they need subsidies to ensure ‘food security’. Which is nonsense. The point of rising prices is to encourage higher production, so that supply catches up with demand. Indeed, as The Economist notes, high food prices present a perfect opportunity for subsidies to be removed – any hardship for rich-world farmers will be far less keenly felt. But it’s not going to happen. Franco-German pressure means the EU’s common agricultural policy (CAP) is here to stay:
This is bad news for European consumers and taxpayers, who were promised a proper debate on CAP reform later this year. They will have to continue paying (€55 billion last year) for this wasteful and wicked system. It is terrible for poor-country farmers, who have long suffered from being shut out of rich-world markets, and having rich-world products dumped on them. Now they can hear the gates of fortress Europe clanging shut just when world prices should be triggering an export boom. And it is dreadful news for the hungry poor, because restricting trade in food exacerbates shortages.
Frankly, I don’t see any real chance of reforming the CAP – EU politics is too dominated by special interests for that. This doesn’t mean we should stop trying, but the UK needs to be ready to take matters into its own hands. If we have to, we should unilaterally abolish agricultural subsidies and tariffs, and withhold part of our EU budget contribution – encouraging other trade-friendly countries to do the same.
Certainly, Old Europe would make a fuss, but what’s the worst that could happen?