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ECVC rejects free trade narrative of AGRIFISH council and demands market regulation and an end to FTAs to address root causes of farmers’ issues

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Source: La Via Campesina

European Coordination Via Campesina | 2 May 2024

ECVC rejects free trade narrative of AGRIFISH council and demands market regulation and an end to FTAs to address root causes of farmers’ issues

Despite months of mobilisations across Europe, the Commissioner for Agriculture, Janusz Wojciechowski, and Agricultural Ministers in the Agriculture and Fisheries Council seem to have quickly forgotten the demands and issues of farmers. At the latest AGRIFISH meeting (29-30 April), representatives continued to push for export-oriented free trade policy, which for ECVC is incompatible with the main demand of the farmer protests: ensuring fair prices that cover production costs through market regulation. ECVC deplores this hypocrisy, in which European policy makers claim to be listening to farmers on the one hand, whilst in reality continuing to push a trade narrative that benefits large industrial actors at the expense of small- and medium-scale farmers who are trying to produce for the European market.

Despite reassurances that farmers’ concerns are being taken into account, members of the AGRIFISH council fail to recognise that it is big agri-businesses that profit from FTAs and the inclusion of agriculture in the WTO. The real impacts of free trade for the majority of farmers are being misrepresented in this space, as policy makers bend to the will of agribusiness lobbies. For farmers on the ground, FTAs and the WTO rules only serve to drive down prices as far as possible, with no regard for the costs to the wellbeing and health of farmers and citizens, nor the impact on climate and biodiversity.

For example, Commissioner Wojciechowski referred heavily to the JRC study on the cumulative economic impact of trade to stress the importance of trade and back up claims that “some agricultural sectors can benefit from the EU trade agenda”.

However, he failed to recognise the study’s purely economic approach, which does not take into consideration social and environmental aspects. It lacks a focus on the groups most affected by these free trade agreements - farmers and agricultural workers - and the specific impact on farmers has not been studied in depth and is not present in the findings. There was also no mention of the fact that, according to the report, producer prices in different sectors included in FTAs are negatively affected and EU data shows that current agricultural policies based on the WTO and FTAs have led to the loss of jobs in the agricultural sector.

The few concrete measures that have been introduced or proposed to address the root causes of farmers’ concerns (such as the price and costs observatory and the discussion on a potential revision of the UTP directive) cannot successfully be implemented within this free trade paradigm. The position of farmers will not improve if EU policy continues to force them to produce as cheaply as possible to compete on global markets.

Furthermore, faced with current climate and biodiversity crises, it is absurd and incoherent to see EU institutions insist that shipping food which could be produced locally from one side of the planet to the other is still a feasible way forward. This approach forces farmers to compete with each other and values producing as much as possible, as cheaply as possible, rather than aiming to reduce the environmental impact of the farming sector and transition to agroecological models that are sustainable and respect our finite natural resources.

The recently approved EU Critical Raw Materials Act (CRMA) and statements from decision makers related to the EU-Mercosur FTA negotiations show that in reality, instead of rethinking its consumption model, the EU is hungry for raw materials and is willing to do anything to get them: farmers, agricultural workers and local populations who defend their territories from environmental disasters linked to extractivism in Europe and elsewhere are simply second-class citizens whose rights do not count.

ECVC calls on EU civil society as a whole to join the broader movement against the current free trade paradigm. It is time to radically reform agricultural trade to respect international law, including the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas (UNDROP), climate objectives and the Convention on Biological Diversity, as well as international human rights law more generally.

Both the WTO and all FTAs that include agriculture signed or in negotiation by the EU are clearly in contradiction with these international instruments. The so-called mirror clause debate in trade relating to food and agriculture is just an attempt to greenwash the current unsustainable trade paradigm, while not actually doing anything. ECVC condemns the role of the EU in WTO negotiations on food and agriculture and the incapacity of the AGRIFISH ministers to understand the real reasons behind the protests. The AGRIFISH council has a responsibility to implement measures to tackle the root causes of these problems, through the regulation of agricultural markets in order to favour agroecological transition in the EU food sectors, ensuring generational renewal and promoting an economy of peace.

Notes to editor

The detailed vision of the European Coordination Via Campesina regarding the next CAP is available in EN, FR, ES.
ECVC’s priorities for the EU elections and proceeding legislature are also available in EN, FR, ES.
See also ECVC Manifesto consolidating 13 concrete action points for Agricultural Transition to Address Systemic Climate Crises in the EU, available in EN, FR, ES.

 source: European Coordination Via Campesina