Background paper for the Concord Food Aid, Trade and Agriculture Forum

(NOTE : this is not a position paper of Concord or any of its working groups but simply a discussion paper to provide food for thought and inform the meeting)


2008-2009 sees the EU intensely engaged on several closely linked fronts with medium and long term implications - from trade, to energy and agrofuels, and the broad development agenda from the Lisbon treaty to the CAP health-check. On the broader political context, in June 2009 EU citizens will elect a new European Parliament for the next five years, the EU Constitutional Treaty should have been approved by then and the Commission will be appointed directly by the Council. The Lisbon Treaty sets out the key principles under which the European Union’s relations with the rest of the world are to be conducted. Amongst others, the treaty states that our future relations with other countries will be based on a neo-liberal vision of free trade and deregulated markets. While the Lisbon Treaty will create a new Foreign Affairs Minister, it will also expand the powers of the Trade Commissioner to include issues of investment and intellectual property, as well as further aspects of trade in services and in addition to its existing competence on the trade of goods. On the development cooperation side, the Lisbon Treaty has put Development Cooperation clearly on the agenda, but does not indicate whether the implementation of the Treaty will bolster the role of development aid or rather make it subordinate to other foreign affairs issues. Beyond the Lisbon Treaty, the EU is gradually adopting the “trade for development” – the leitmotiv of the EPA negotiations - as a new development paradigm.


The European Commission is engaged in a 360° negotiating strategy : while it is still trying to keep the WTO Doha Round alive, it is intensely working on the existing ACP front –locking in and expanding liberalisation commitments towards new EU-ACP trade relations- while opening up new fronts with a round of brand new bilateral trade agreements. The overarching strategy has been made explicit in “Global Europe. A Contribution to the EU’s Growth and Jobs Strategy”, the European Commission strategy for Europe competing in the world : serving the interests of European businesses to maintain cheap access to raw materials and to expand into new markets in the developing world.

WTO/DDA negotiations : launched in Doha in 2001, this is the most comprehensive and also difficult round of trade negotiations characterised by the emergence of new groupings (G20, G33, etc) and new global economic powers (primarily India and Brazil). Negotiations reached a deadlock in July 2006 and ever since, in spite of the several attempts to renew momentum, without a breakthrough in agricultural and non-agricultural market access talks, and without a guarantee that any compromise deal involving concessions to the United States will be approved by Congress, it appears unlikely that the Doha Round will reach a satisfactory conclusion just yet. Whether the Doha development round is concluded or not, the WTO and the multilateral trade system will remain an important issue for NGOs, with debates on WTO reforms, the emergence of alternatives (ALBA, etc) but also on the close linkages with emerging global issues (energy security, agro-fuels and climate change). While the Kyoto convention is increasingly demanding countries to regulate emissions (and indirectly to regulate trade reduce emissions), the WTO pushes for trade deregulation. These two agendas will somehow collide at some point. Also, while environmental standards might be allowed in the future by the WTO, there is a lot of discussion to take place if they are to be categorised as agricultural, industrial or environmental goods.

EPA : negotiated between the EU and ACPs to replace the unilateral system of preferences (Lome conventions) with WTO-compatible free trade agreements, they are meant to favour regional integration of the ACPs thus ensuring their gradual integration into the global economy. EPAs were planned to be concluded and in force by the 1 January 2008, in time for the expiry of the WTO waiver. Yet, divergences between the parties on the nature and content of these agreements have resulted in long delays. So far, only 35 of almost 80 ACP countries have signed interim EPAs and mostly under a different configuration from the one in which they have negotiated. Essentially only countries that risked trade disruption from not signing or those that are highly dependant on European aid have done so. For example, in West Africa no LDCs nor Nigeria have signed, while Ghana and Ivory Cost have (to avoid loss of preferences for their critical markets). So, far from being concluded, the EPAs are in the best case being initialled and several substantive issues are still on the table. The European Commission considers the interim agreements a building block for full EPAs, while ACPs want to keep doors open to renegotiate. While WTO compatibility was a key reason for the EC to negotiate EPAs and mounting pressure to conclude them, actually no EPA has been notified so far to WTO. Complaints made by African Heads of State at the Lisbon Summit on the excessive pressure prompted EC President, Manuel Barroso, to assure the African governments that the unsolved issues in the EPAs would be revisited during 2008. This promise has been quickly questioned by Commissioner Mandelson. Beyond the trade dimension, it is clear that the negotiations of the EPAs have been a diplomatic disaster with long term implications for the future EU ACP relation. ACP regional farmers network have certainly played a growing influential role in EPA campaigning, by mobilizing their vast membership, and being formally included in the EPA midterm review. In conclusion, EPAs still represent an important campaigning space for NGOs. Redefining a clear strategy for engagement in EPAs on the basis of the new reality (multi-level response is needed at this stage) is vital to ensure effective influencing.

Bilateral/bi-regional trade agreements and the competitiveness agenda : since WTO negotiations have entered uncertain times, the European Commission has stepped up its efforts towards bilateral trade agreements and launched a new programme of ambitious free trade agreements with ASEAN, Korea, Mercosur, Andean Community, Central America, India and possibly Pakistan among others. The objective of this programme is to achieve deeper integration and carve out preferential market access beyond the multilateral commitments, particularly in relation to the overall regulatory framework of these countries, insisting on the removal of non-trade barriers and ambitious agreements on trade related issues (investment, competition and public procurements). The European Commission is laying the foundations for these bilaterals, which offer an important long term campaign opportunity for NGOs since they are at relatively early stages, present strong commonalities and thus offer connectivity among NGOs and social movements in different region of the world (India, Asia, Latin America). At the same time because of their broad range, they require a strategic and well coordinated effort in order to maximise the limited resources and achieve greater impact (potential for structured exchange of information, and a common discourse and analysis).


The increasing environmental concern over climate change, the rising oil prices, the general concern over future energy supplies and the high costs of continuing the exploitation of existing oil reserves reinforce the need for alternative energy sources. In this context, agrofuels have become a key issue in international energy security strategies. During this global transition to a post-oil society, biofuels are certain to be a central issue on the international agenda. The long-term shift in the global energy matrix has already begun and is relying heavily on agroenergy programs that will inevitably exert considerable pressure on the land available for agriculture worldwide. The global trade in biofuels will also have a profound impact on international agricultural agreements The recent decision of the Commission to set binding targets in agrofuels energy consumption (10%) will have important consequence inside and outside of the EU, with increased pressure on land, likely competition with food production and destruction of forests, meadows and wetlands. This approach results form the failure of rich countries to address the main issue of the energy crisis : the patterns of energy consumption and the urgent need to reduce it. The energy security and agrofuels debate has certainly the potential to provide the fil rouge of the various debates on trade, agricultural commodities, farm subsidies, consumption patterns and environmental sustainability.


On the development side, reallocation of unspent 9th EDF funds and the finalisation of the programming exercise for 10th EDF, the EU African strategy (reshaping the relations with Africa beyond the Cotonou framework), and Advancing African Agriculture strategy also strongly contribute to the EU trade and development strategy.

In 2007, the Commission adopted a proposal for closer cooperation between Europe and Africa in terms of agricultural development in Africa (Advancing African Agriculture). The initiative was based on the acknowledgement that significant progress towards the Millennium Development Goals would require acceleration in agricultural growth and in rural poverty alleviation. It follows on from the 2005 EU Strategy for Africa and responds to the increasing prominence that donors accord to the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP) in Africa as a useful framework to stimulate agricultural development in a coordinated way. Furthermore, the African Union Commission and the European Commission have decided to collaborate closer and agriculture and environment form important elements.

European civil society welcomed the strategy while noting an inadequate emphasis on : a) the central role of multifunctional family based agriculture for development, food security and poverty reduction in Africa and the need to prioritize support for strengthening family farming in all aspecs of agricultural development and cooperation strategies ; b) priority that should be given to building and defending local, national and regional agricultural markets and to ensuring the access of small producers to these markets on terms that are adantageous to them ; c) the patrimony of experience, expertise and horizontal partnerships with African farmers’ organizations which European CSOs have built up over the past decades and the contribution that they can and should make to a European initiative to advance African agriculture. The implementation of AAA will certainly key for CSOs in Europe and Africa, because of the role of agriculture in fighting poverty and hunger and to the close linkages to trade and biofuels debates.

Internally, the EU is undergoing a health-check of the highly controversial Common Agricultural Policy. The some Euro 90 billion per year agricultural programme inflicts vast damage on farmers in developing countries, mainly through the practice of dumping, and is largely questioned within Europe as it benefits mainly large landowners and powerful agribusinesses in core and central regions of Europe instead of small farmers, needy rural communities or to the environmental stewardship.

In 2008 the EU is preparing to adopt the mid-term review of the CAP, in order to adapt the new policy launched in 2003 (that decoupled the income supports from production) to the new constraints (enlarging of the EU, adaptation to the climate changes and to the WTO negotiations, simplification of the Unique Payment Regime ...). The Commission aims for adoption of the new regulation before 2009 when co-decision procedure with the European Parliament will come into effect and the debate on the European budget will start. The French Government wants to use its presidency of the EU in the second half of the 2008 to start discussions about the longer term perspectives for the CAP, post 2013.

An important question is whether the EU will keep the necessary instruments of regulation and supply management in order to manage its markets and to avoid negative impact on developing countries (for example : with the suppression of milk quotas, or the higher volatility of the market due to the elimination of the stocks) at the time the protection will be reduced or capped (in case the Doha Round is concluded) ? Also, will the CAP better take into account the support to family farms, employment and rural communities within the EU ? Will the CAP reform integrate the production model changes that are necessary in order that the agricultural sector contributes to the climate change mitigation. The review of CAP between 2008-2013 represents an important medium term opportunity to remove an important constraint to the realisation of the right to food and farmers rights in an equitable north/south perspective.

The current CSOs campaigning panorama

On the trade side, the campaigning panorama is characterised by a number of (semi)structured groups (Concord, ETN, S2B network) with some overlapping membership and specificities, but also the flourishing of ad hoc coalitions, with high dynamism but unclear legitimacy (who is speaking on behalf of whom). It is clear that with a large number of mailing lists, information sharing it no longer enough to bring people together around the table. Groups are looking for action-driven synergies and relevance of debates in their specific contexts (national and Brussels). At the same time there is an increasing divide between the most advanced and less actively engaged groups (technical expertise divide). Also, NGO trade policy influencing is experiencing a growing trend of popular campaign-driven action groups with very limited space for policy reflection. On the food security side, there is also a variety of groups, but in broad terms they can be grouped in two : a group with a food aid focus more related to the crisis/emergencies debates and one with a food sovereignty drive related to the broader rural development discourse.

What are the strengths and the added value of Concord ?

- Strong legitimacy of the work done under the Concord umbrella and potential for strong connectivity of the trade and aid debates.
- Well structured relations with the EU institutions, which limits the EC’s divide and rule tactics.
- Presence in Brussels and in EU member states gives potential for increased influencing
- Wide range of expertises of its membership
- Coverage of related issues (aid, trade, food/agriculture)

What are the challenges ?

Lack of clear positioning of Concord in some policy debates makes it difficult for the working groups to operate in an effective but legitimate way. Coherence : tackling these interconnected agendas requires a strategic approach with consistency in the overarching policy lines and message in order to strengthen the reputation of Concord and its members but also to build on each others work in the working groups for an increased impact of our actions. The food sovereignty concept is an interesting approach that can provide a strong and consistent overarching framework to the work of the different groups and solve the problems inconsistency. This approach has been at the basis of the EU and its CAP for fifty years (though worded in a different way).

Work programme : not all groups have a programme of work that goes beyond meeting and information sharing. Lessons from the groups that have such programme of common work are that this requires investment of energies and commitment but that after the initial capital injection and the possible frictions, the group grows and becomes progressively stronger and exponentially its position and influence vis a vis the EU institutions.

Diverse level of engagement (technical expertise divide) and limited connectivity among the working groups (compartmental work) : these two problems reduce the level of engagement of the national members, create a sense of disconnection/incoherence with impact on the influencing prospects (Brussels-capitals connectivity as well as between inter-thematic connectivity, e.g Aid for Trade, or Trade/food Aid/Food dumping).

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