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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: http://www.humanite.fr/pendant-que-...

by Gérard Le Puil

While the Right argues, the agricultural crisis continues

Translated Thursday 9 February 2017, by Meghan O’Shea

The continuing deterioration of the agricultural markets and financial difficulties continuing to be faced by farming communities were totally absent from the presidential primary organized by the right-wing political party, The Republicans. In the meantime, the European Commission wants to move forward with further trade liberalization, at the risk of jeopardizing our food sovereignty.

While François Fillon and Alain Juppé prepare for the second round of the primary election that will nominate the right-wing presidential election candidate, the agricultural crisis continues. Prior to the first round debates, the FNSEA called on all the right-wing candidates to endorse 13 measures, aimed at improving the situation of rural and agricultural communities, beginning in 2017. In particular it called for a revamped European agricultural program with a set budget; an end to unfair competition practices; a 6 billion euro national investment plan; a water storage policy; the introduction of a social VAT in order to eliminate and replace family benefits and health insurance contributions paid by farmers; an increase in employers’ CICE rate in order to promote competitiveness; revisions to the regulatory framework governing suppliers and distributors business dealings; calculating farmer’s retirement benefits based on income from their best 25 years and not their entire life-time income; establishing high speed internet throughout rural areas; and the enactment of a reservation excluding the wolf from Berne Convention protections.

Some of the measures being called for are legitimate, others are highly questionable. Rather than addressing the issue of proper remuneration of farmers’ labor through agricultural prices, the FNSEA has demanded that the public pay the farmers’ portion of social contributions and a part of agricultural employers’ wage costs. The candidates’ responses to the demands of the trade union, run by Xavier Beulin, are not known, as the issues were not addressed in the televised debates preceding the first round of primary voting.

For its part, the French Young Farmers union (JA) recently met in Colmar to discuss a possible post-2020 Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). According to Jérémy Decerle, president of the JA, "Neither the CAP nor Europe defend farmers as well as other countries, like the United States and Brazil (...) The CETA is the opposite of what we should be doing. This agreement was negotiated in secret and made food an adjustable variable. We continue to use agricultural products in our negotiations for fighter jets, but food is a basic necessity. Just like what happened with TAFTA, people are fiercely opposed to the use of growth hormones and GMOs, but Europe, through this treaty, will force them on us,” he said in an interview with the AgraPresse this week.

The same issue of AgraPresse also mentions the European Commission’s views on the consequences for agriculture of the multiple free trade agreements which it has negotiated, with a mandate from member countries. Regarding beef and veal, the Commission recognizes that these agreements will lead to “a fall in prices, in the European Union, and in production over the long-term.” Likewise, European rice production is also "one of the most susceptible sectors", the Commission acknowledges. The rice producers of the Camargue and their Italian colleagues already know this through painful experience. The Commission has also confirmed that production of meat products, such as poultry and sheep, and sugar might be “confronted with stronger imports, with an indirect impact on production levels and prices”.

Broadly speaking, the European Commission has openly recognized that it will not defend European farmers and, at the same time, has renounced any concept of food sovereignty - as long as trade agreements, such as CETA, TAFTA and the agreement to be negotiated with the Mercosur member states, allow a few European firms to succeed. In addition to sacrificing farmers and food sovereignty, a document recently came to light which gave the Ministers of Agriculture of the 28 member states some information on the underpinnings of the Mercosur agreement negotiations. Ireland then began worrying about the consequences for the beef and veal sector, Italy for rice. France was content to call for vigilance, with no further details. A form of acceptance which is unacceptable. None of the right-wing candidates denounced this fool’s game, which speaks volumes about their irresponsible attitudes.

While the price of milk, various meats and cereals remains low in France and Europe because of global overproduction in the face of actual demand, negotiating new free trade agreements that are ruinous to farmers around the world amounts to an active, and most likely unconscious, campaign that will result in food insecurity and famine in the near future.

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