One of the more persistent myths about the common agricultural policy is that it discriminates against farmers in the developing world by supporting 'uncompetitive' European agriculture.
That may have been true 20 or 30 years ago, but today this kind of EU farm policy has long since disappeared. The wine lakes and butter mountains of the past are in the distant past, and today's CAP not only reflects the understanding that we are part of a globalised world but also embraces the challenge.
That's why it was so surprising to hear my friend José Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, repeating the same old lines about the 'unfairness' of EU farm policy and its failure to tackle the big issues of the day such as sustainability.
So let me challenge these myths with a few facts, to help put the record straight.
FACT: Presently over 90% of EU support to farmers has no distorting effect on trade, because it is no longer linked to the quantity produced.
For many years now, EU farm policy has been in line with the EU's development objectives. Market measures are still permitted, it is true – but only in the case of crisis, and even then price support for farmers is set at levels that are generally well below normal market conditions, reducing EU surpluses and bringing us more into line with global prices. Export refunds ceased to exist on 1 January 2014 and the EU was the main driving force behind the WTO decision in December 2015 to scrap all trade-distorting export subsidies.
FACT: EU policy is development friendly, with extremely favourable trading conditions for countries across the developing world.
The EU gives duty-free and quota-free access to all Less Developed Countries (LDCs), and unilateral concessions to developing countries. We have developed Economic Partnership Agreements – free trade agreements – that were carefully crafted to allow partner countries to protect their sensitive agricultural products from liberalisation, either by excluding them entirely or by allowing robust safeguards that can be used to guard against sudden increases in imports. We continue to work closely with our partner countries in the developing world to share expertise and best practice on agriculture and food safety.
FACT: The EU is the world largest importer of agricultural products from Less Developed Countries.
In 2015, the EU imported agri-food products from Less Developed Countries (LDCs) worth €3.4 billion, that's a 13% increase compared to the previous year. And we are by far the biggest supporters of farmers in LDCs. In fact, Europe imports more from Less Developed Countries than the US, China, Japan, Russia and Canada combined.
FACT: 30% of EU support to farmers is directly linked to measures to protect the environment.
The EU is extremely conscious of its place as a world leader in terms of climate change and environmental protection, and we have been swift to try to ensure a more coherent approach across all our policies in this regard. That's why EU rules now stipulate that farmers can only receive direct payments if they respect a basic layer of environmental rules. And the rules go even further: 30% of farmers' direct payments are conditional on respecting farming practices that are considered beneficial for the environment. And as I have made clear – we can and will do more in the years to come.
We've just finished a major consultation on the future of the CAP that will feed into a Commission Communication later this year. I fully expect these proposals to further address the question of support for farmers, coherence with development policy and the role of agriculture in tackling climate change. These are the key issues of our times, and not those of the past.