When ten Eastern European countries join the EU next year, internal trade will increase and the structures of the agricultural and food sectors will change in both old and new Member States. This was the message of JOHAN SWINNEN, Professor of Agricultural Policy of the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium, addressing delegates at the opening of the Nordic Association of Agricultural Scientists (NJF) congress in Turku, Finland, last Tuesday. Swinnen is one of the world’s leading experts on the Agriculture of Eastern European countries and has been consulted by their governments, the EU Commission and the World Bank on issues related to economic reform in the area.
Food exports from the old Member States to those now joining the Union are already over ten times the level a decade ago, and imports twice as high. The range of products traded between the countries may change, and some food production sectors may grow while others decline, but on the whole both sides will win, Swinnen assured the meeting. He said that the tough membership conditions and the accession process, which has taken years, have swept aside fears that the old member countries will be flooded with cheap bulk foods from Eastern Europe as soon as the barriers are pulled down. According to Swinnen, the need for reform of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) expressed in the ongoing Mid-Term Review stems mainly from the World Trade Organization (WTO), not from EU enlargement. The need for export subsidies, which the WTO opposes, has been reduced by allowing the new Member States only limited milk and sugar quotas.
However, Swinnen considers it a contradictory arrangement that for a transition period of 10 years the new member countries may convert part of their rural development support into direct agricultural subsidies. Although studies show that the agricultural problems of both new and current EU countries are structural in nature and cannot be solved with subsidies, farmers and policymakers remain more eager to get support for individual farms than to invest in rural development as a whole, said Swinnen.
Jukka Kola | alfa
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