TALKING POINT

23 November 2001




TALKING POINT

The peace enjoyed during the world trade talks in Doha, Qatar contrasted starkly with the pandemonium in Genoa, around the G8 Summit earlier this year, and previously in Seattle.

Trouble was fomented by anarchists and hooligans, but they exploited sincerely held fears about the globalisation of world trade and its effects on the environment.

No one should condone hooliganism, but there are implications for UK agriculture which should not be ignored. We may have common cause with some of their concerns. Food miles, for example. Should the vestiges of empire preference linger through the shipping of refrigerated meat, butter, cheese and fruits halfway around the globe when much of them can be produced perfectly well much nearer home with less consumption of finite energy? Much of the worlds freight shipping is operated under flags of convenience.

It is a convenient arrangement for the faceless ship owners and for a few giant multi-national agribusinesses. It is also convenient for the covert application of GM crops and e-commerce, which have come to dominate their markets under the noses of apparently toothless international agencies and compliant governments. Successful market penetration is not only about quality and prices, but about who controls the marketing chain and what covert incentives are available along the way.

It is no coincidence that the enormous divergence between the ex-farm price of wheat and the retail price of a loaf of bread over the past 30 years has paralleled this market consolidation. A kg of chump chops can retail for the price of a lamb.

Globalisation is a two-edged sword. It is beneficial if it enables new jobs in Third World factories which add value to locally produced commodities such as cotton. It is indirectly beneficial to developing economies in that the newly acquired management skills and technologies can spill over into other activities such as machinery maintenance.

It also helps to stem the tide of economic migrants. The benefits which these policies and technologies can deliver, sooner rather than later, must not be denied to mankind and the environment.

Although we expect democratic governments to ensure that the international agencies they support have the authority to curb multi-nationals, it should not have the effect of blighting their enterprise and efficiency.

We could wait a long time for any potential benefits if we depended solely on government action. In any case protectionism should be a dead, if not buried, policy. We should soon starve or be bored to death if we were to confine ourselves to eating the view, and many of us would be reduced to penury if we only bought organic produce.

Can UK and other European producers collaborate to create a bigger demand among consumers for local produce, always assuming quality and palatability is competitive? I do not see the supermarket retailers paying more than lip service to the idea. Is this not something which the European farmers union COPA/COGECA should address?

But let the world bring us their spices, bananas, pineapples, mangoes, dates and rice. It could be a compromise which could begin to satisfy some of the concerns of protesters and producers alike.

No one should condone

the violence of the

anti-globalisation

protesters, but

worl-wide trade does

have some serious

implications for UK

agriculture, says

John Jenkin


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