The Spectator

Let the poor feed us

Let the poor feed us

Amid the mayhem in Baghdad this week, it would be easy to overlook a significant development towards international peace and security. It came in a letter from Pascal Lamy, EU trade commissioner, and Franz Fischler, agriculture commissioner, to the trade ministers of all 148 members of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). The EU, they wrote, is prepared to end export subsidies paid to European farmers who sell their goods abroad. By making this offer, the EU raises the possibility that the Doha round of world trade talks, which failed in Cancun last September, can be revived.

The threat of trade sanctions is bandied about all too easily in international politics. Rather less often asserted is the contribution towards peace and prosperity made by free trade. Samuel Johnson’s adage that ‘there are few ways in which a man can be more innocently employed than in getting money’ is as true on a global scale as it is of individuals. Countries which maintain good trading links are less likely to go to war because they have too much to lose by doing so. In order to see this, it is necessary only to study the history of Europe since 1945. A continent ravaged by two wars has been brought to a position in which armed conflict is unthinkable.

Much of the credit for this achievement lies with the Common Market, as it originally was. Yet Europe’s commitment to free trade has always been compromised by the bizarre exemption granted to agriculture. While our factories and increasingly our offices have been forced to compete internationally, much to the benefit of innovation and wealth-creation, our farmers, through subsidies, quotas and tariffs, have been preserved as anthropological specimens, and grumbling ones at that.

It is not just Europe that is guilty of feather-bedding its farmers but America and developed countries in general, which between them are subsidising their farmers to the tune of $1 billion a day.

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