The total EU budget in 2010 was €123 billion. Just under half of this (€58 billion) was spent on supporting agriculture. The programme of support – the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) – has changed over the years. For a start, despite its being a large proportion of the EU budget, this proportion has actually been falling. In 1980, the CAP accounted for 69% of the EU budget; in 1990 it was 60%; in 2000 it was 52%; in 2010 it was 47%.
The types of support have also changed. The main method in the past was effectively to set minimum prices for various foodstuffs and for Intervention Boards to buy up any surpluses that arose from such prices being above the market equilibrium. Massive food ‘mountains’ resulted. Sometimes these surpluses were dumped on the world market; sometimes they were thrown away; sometimes they were simply kept in storage. Export subsidies and import levies (taxes) were also used to reduce surpluses. This, of course, was highly damaging to farmers in many countries outside the EU, especially in various primary exporting developing countries.
Reforms have taken place in recent years. The most important has been to replace high intervention prices with direct payments to farmers unrelated to current output. Whilst such payments still provide a substantial outgoing from the EU budget, being unrelated to current output, they do not encourage farmers to produce more and thus do not generate surpluses. Prices in most cases are allowed to be determined by the market.
The EU has just announced further reforms. These include:
• Capping total CAP spending at current levels until 2020
• Capping the total payment to any one farm to €300,000
• Relating subsidies to acreage rather than previous output
• Making 30% of the direct payments dependent on farmers meeting environmental criteria.
The following videos and articles examine the proposals and assess their likely benefits, their likely drawbacks and their likelihood of being implemented.
EU plans to reform Common Agricultural Policy for farmers BBC News, Jeremy Cooke (12/10/11)
EU unveils controversial agricultural reforms Euronews (12/10/11)
Towards a new Common Agricultural Policy Euronews (14/10/11)
Queen to lose out in shake up of Europe’s farm payments Channel 4 News (12/10/11)
Cautious welcome for EU agriculture policy shake-up STV News (12/10/11)
CAP reform proposals YouTube, Dacian Cioloş, European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development (in French with English subtitles) (12/10/11)
EU farm chief: CAP plans represent profound reform Reuters, Charlie Dunmore (12/10/11)
UK to dismiss Common Agricultural Policy reforms as inadequate Guardian, David Gow (11/10/11)
EU Farm Policy Debate Pits Top Receiver France Against U.K. Bloomberg Businessweek, Rudy Ruitenberg (12/10/11)
EU plans CAP reforms for ‘greener’ farm subsidies BBC News (12/10/11)
Common Agriculture Policy farm subsidy plan unveiled BBC News (12/10/11)
Q&A: Reform of EU farm policy BBC News (12/10/11)
CAP reform: Shepherd and steward of the land BBC News, Jeremy Cooke (12/10/11)
EU agriculture policy ‘still hurting farmers in developing countries’ Guardian: Poverty Matters blog, Mark Tran (11/10/11)
EU aid to farmers to continue over next decade Financial Times, Joshua Chaffin (12/10/11)
CAP Reform – an explanation of the main elements Europa Press Release (12/10/11)
The European Commission proposes a new partnership between Europe and the farmers European Commission Press Release (12/10/11)
EU farm policy after 2013: Commission proposals welcomed with reservations European Parliament Press Release (12/10/11)
Legal proposals for the CAP after 2013 European Commission: Agriculture and Rural Development (12/10/11)
- Explain why the old system of price support under the CAP led to food surpluses. Use a diagram to illustrate your analysis.
- What is the significance of price elasticity of demand and supply in determining the size of these surpluses?
- What reforms have been introduced to the CAP in recent years? What effects have these had?
- Explain the new proposals for the CAP after 2013.
- What are the likely benefits of these proposals?
- What are the likely drawbacks of the proposals?
The outbreak of E. Coli has already cost lives, but it is also costing livelihoods of farmers who rely on producing and selling agricultural produce. Immediately following the outbreak in Germany, the blame was put on Spanish producers of cucumbers, which lead to the destruction of tens of thousands of kilos of fresh produce, costing Spain an estimated £177m per week in sales. Although Spain is not the source of the outbreak, the problem has not disappeared and will now affect the whole of Europe: at least until the source is identified. Countries such as Spain, France and Germany are big exporters to Russia and these countries are likely to take a big hit with the Russian health service banning imports of EU vegetables. The impact of this action (together with other countries implementing similar strategies) has not only affected agricultural producers, but is also having wider impacts on other sectors, including transportation. If no-one wants to buy the products, there’s very little use for the companies and indeed drivers to deliver them.
The Spanish economy will be looking for compensation from Germany for the losses they incurred, when sales of fruit and vegetables practically ceased following Germany’s initial accusation. As the Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero said:
“We acted as we had to, and we are going to get reparations and the return of Spanish products to their rightful place. … I believe that any other interpretation or any effort to politicise the huge mistake made by the German authorities is totally unfair.”
The effects of this outbreak have spread to UK supermarkets and producers. The former have reported a slight drop in sales of fruit and vegetables, but have not taken this opportunity to drop the prices paid to British growers, which is particularly important for cucumber producers, given the high production costs. Sarah Pettitt of the National Farmers Union said she was ‘extremely encouraged to hear that the major supermarkets … are not using this unfortunate situation as an excuse to drop prices to British growers.’ In fact some believe that the outbreak could be good for UK producers, as consumers increasingly turn to home-produced products. While the source of the outbreak remains unknown, so does the future of agricultural producers throughout Europe, as well as all those that have any dependence on this huge industry.
E. Coli outbreak: UK cases rise to 11 BBC News (4/6/11)
E coli source hunted as growers fear sales slump Guardian, Robin McKie (4/6/11)
Farmers reel as outbreak hits demand Financial Times, Matt Steinglass and Victor Mallet (3/6/11)
Spain seeks compensation for E. Coli blame BBC News (3/6/11)
E.Coli: Economic impact on the agriculture industry BBC News, Richard Anderson (3/6/11)
Spain says Germany mulls EU aid over cucumber slur Associated Press (3/6/11)
Rose Prince: Cucumbers, diet and Prof Moth Telegraph, Rose Prince (4/6/11)
- Why have cucumber producers been experiencing falling profit margins in recent years?
- Could the outbreak of E Coli bring any benefits to the UK economy?
- What are the costs and benefits to Russian consumers and producers from the protectionists measures that have been imposed on EU imports of fruit and vegetables?
- Which sectors within the European market are likely to experience the biggest problems?
- Explain why the Chairman of the National Farmers Union was ‘encouraged to hear that the major supermarkets … are not using this unfortunate situation as an excuse to drop prices to British growers’. Why would supermarkets have an incentive to do this?
One of the interesting things about the recent recession was the dilemma that it posed for governments. As aggregate demand fell, unemployment rose, incomes fell, which reduced demand further and so national output began to decline. Obviously there were many other factors contributing to this decline, in particular the housing market, but the long and the short of it is, aggregate demand was falling. With the AD curve shifting inwards, we would expect the average price level to fall at the same time: i.e. inflation doesn’t tend to be much of a problem during a recession. It is this fact that posed something of a dilemma. In the recession, not only was aggregate demand low, but inflation was rising. The explanation for this: in large part due to rising commodity prices – a supply-side shock. Governments had to deal with low national output and inflation: this combination made policy changes much more complex.
While prices for many goods and commodities did fall significantly after their peak in 2008, there has been a gradual rise again and there seems to be no end in sight. Headline food prices, in particular, have increased almost to their 2008 levels, although in real terms prices are still lower. Onions in India; cabbage, pork and mackerel in South Korea; chillies in Indonesia – the list goes on. The rapidly rising prices of these basic foodstuffs has, in many cases, led to emergency government intervention. However, there are fewer concerns this time round, as many hope that the causes of these higher prices are not just the increases in demand but crucially temporary supply shocks. Bloomberg’s Businessweek Assistant Managing Editor, Sheelah Kolhatkar, said:
There are a lot of reasons [for rising prices]. Weather is cited as a big one. There’s been sort of freak weather in different parts of the world. Russia experienced a drought. There are floods in Australia. There’s been sort of freezing weather in Florida. Our own Midwest experienced flooding earlier this year. And because the market for a lot of these food commodities is global, when something strange happens somewhere, that can affect a crop.
On the other hand, there are growing concerns at the timing of this inflation: the developed world has barely escaped from recession. How is it that inflation can already be a problem? Furthermore, with loose monetary policy in many countries, rising food and commodity prices could continue for some time.
An interesting question to consider is which countries will be affected the most? In Britain, like other developed countries, food consumption accounts for between 15 and 20 per cent of a household budget. However, in developing countries, food can take up between 50 and 75 per cent of a houshold budget, so any rise in food prices is disastrous.
What does it mean for the recovery? Well, if food (a necessity) is increasing in price, households have little choice but to pay the higher prices. This means they have less disposable income for other goods, hence aggregate demand may be adversely affected. The following articles will hopefully give you some ‘food for thought’!
Soaring food prices cast shadow over trading Financial Times, Dave Shellock (14/1/11)
Next shock will be high food prices Sydney Morning Herald (17/1/11)
Commodities can still shock BBC News blogs, Stephanomics, Stephanie Flanders (13/1/11)
Many countries face catastrophe as inflation creeps up the food chain Independent, Hamish McRae (16/1/11)
Soaring demand soaks food oil reserves Sydney Morning Herald, Luzi Ann Javier (17/1/11)
Government to subsidise essential food items Sunday Observer, Gammi Warushamana (16/1/11)
Brace for higher food prices Jamaica Observer, Julia Richardson (16/1/11)
Jordanians protest against soaring food prices Guardian, Johnny McDevitt (15/1/11)
Inflation, the old enemy, is back. But this is no time to be frightened Guardian, Larry Elliott (16/1/11)
Global effort to calm food prices Washington Post, Steve Mufson (15/1/11)
The link between commodity prices and Monetary Policy Seeking Alpha (14/1/11)
Australian floods bost commodity prices, shares and funds Telegraph, Ian Cowie (13/1/11)
Soaring cost of oil and food will result in turmoil Belfast Telegraph Hamish McRae (18/1/11)
Q&A: Why food prices and fuel costs are going up BBC News (14/1/11)
Commodity Prices Index Mundi
- What is the difference between headline food prices and real prices?
- What are the demand-side factors causing food prices to increase?
- What factors have affected the supply-side of the food market? Use a diagram to illustrate both the demand and supply-side factors.
- Can you identify some of the key differences between the causes of the rising food prices in 2008 and the rising food prices we’re seeing at the moment?
- Who are the winners and losers of rising food prices?
- What methods of government intervention are available to stabilise prices? Are they likely to be efficient and equitable?
- How is the exchange rate affecting food prices?
- Why could a loose monetary policy make food price inflation even worse?
- What are the main consequences of rising food and commodity prices? Think about the impact on different groups within society.
“As the global economic crisis forces everyone to downsize, the self-sufficient worker once again has a chance, whether as a farmer growing vegetables for local consumption or as an open-source software developer who makes a living in his basement office.” So argues the first article linked to below. Does this mean that economies of scale are over-exaggerated? Should developing countries provide more support to small-scale production as a growth and development strategy? And does small-scale production provide benefits beyond those of production and profit? Does it meet broader human and social needs? The articles explore the issues: the first two in the context of the developed world and the other four in the context of developing countries.
The Return to Yeomanry New America Foundation (22/6/09)
Entrée: Small-scale farmers on the forefront of a greens revolution The Vancouver Sun (19/6/09)
Extracts – the future of small-scale farming Oxfam International
Malawi’s fertile plan Mail & Guardian Online (25/6/09)
Development: Investment in small farmers crucial in Africa Bizcommunity.com (24/6/09)
Toward Agricultural Sustainability Philippines Business Mirror (24/6/09)
- What are the benefits of ‘a return to yeomanry’ (a) to the individuals themselves; (b) to society and the environment?
- Why might it prove a risky strategy for those embarking on small-scale production? How could governments help to reduce the risks for the producers? Should they?
- Discuss whether fostering small-scale farming is an appropriate development strategy for developing countries. What specific policy measures should governments adopt?
- Is land reform (a) a necessary condition; (b) a sufficient condition if small-scale farming is to flourish in developing countries? What pitfalls are there from a policy of land reform?
The European Commission is concerned that the economic downturn may have put the livelihoods of dairy farmers at risk. To try to prevent any problems for farmers, the Commission has re-introduced export subsidies for dairy products. The last time subsidies were paid to dairy farmers was June 2007 and the EU insists that the payment will meet World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules.
EU gives boost to dairy exports BBC News Online (23/1/09)
- Using diagrams as appropriate, illustrate the impact of the EU export subsidies on the market for milk.
- Additional support for dairy farmers comes in the form of EU intervention – European Commission purchases of surplus produce at a guaranteed price. Using diagrams as appropriate, illustrate and explain how this ‘guaranteed price’ scheme will work.
- Explain the role of the WTO in determining world trade rules.
- Discuss the likely reaction of other countries to the EU’s payment of export subsidies to dairy farmers.