European agriculture in transition

Date of publication: June 15, 1992

Author: Allan Buckwell


The uncertainties facing European agriculture have rarely been greater. The combination of the Reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the agricultural negotiations in the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and the impact on agricultural trade of the liberalisation of the Central and Eastern European (CEE) economies produce a greater set of challenges than at any other time this century. These three sets of issues have four features in common. First, they are all of such a scale that they could have significant effects on the economic circumstances facing European farmers. Second, they are intensely political and thus the outcome is extremely difficult to predict. Third, they all involve processes which will span several years, they are not once-off events. Fourth, they all move in the direction of increasing competitive pressures on West European agriculture. The paper proceeds in four parts. Parts one to three summarise the main components of each of the three issues and the scale and timetable of the changes they may bring about. The fourth part contains a discussion of the interactions between the three issues and assessment of the direction and magnitude of the effects of the changes. Anticipating the conclusions, imagine agriculture in the EC (and, mutatis mutandi, EFT A) as a basket of silkworm cocoons! Our farmers have already been through several stages of their metamorphosis. Having gorged themselves for decades on the mulberry leaves of taxpayer-provided subsidies, they are now cosily embraced in the Angled and extremely protective web of the CAP. For sound internal and external reasons, this protective shield of silk is being unwound. The result will be an industry which is more exposed to the elements. The environment facing farmers will be less certain, more variable, there will be more competition and less protection against predators. Many of the moths will not survive the harsh climate outside the cocoon. Equally, however the larger, better nourished and fitter ones will make it. They will ensure the survival of the species. But as is often the case in nature, many may perish in order that the rest survive. It is also likely to be the case that fewer of those who care for and supply to the silkworms will be required for this smaller, stronger, more productive surviving population.

Allan Buckwell


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