International talks to reduce agriculture subsidies and other trade barriers - which could give an unprecedented boost to poor countries - are heading for the buffers.
As people like Tim constantly remind us, dropping these barriers would make us richer as well; firstly by allowing us to purchase cheaper goods, and secondly because we wouldn't have to pay all the damn subsides.
Earlier this week it looked as though Peter Mandelson, the EU trade commissioner, had negotiated a united EU offer to cut CAP subsidies by 71% and farm import duties by 60% over a long period. Even though these offers are not as big as they seem - they involve switching subsidies from products that are highly trade distorting to ones that are only moderately so - it was nevertheless a united front with which Europe could talk to the rest of the world
Well, yes. As I pointed out before, it wasn't quite as generous as some of the stuff that the US had offered, but it was better than nothing. But, guess what? Somebody has interests to pursue...
Once again France is holding up progress. Its farming lobby, small in numbers but huge in political clout, refuses to give up lucrative subsidies, even though the resulting overproduction shuts third world countries out of business.
Well, ain't that a fucking surprise. The French holding on to their subsidies like CO to haemoglobin.
It is disabling for the EU that a policy that is agreed by nearly all its 25 member countries can be stymied by farmers in one country. And it is even more disabling for the world trade talks that a group of subsidy junkies in just one country can derail an entire global effort. It is ridiculous to maintain a system that devours $48bn a year from an EU budget that ought to be putting cash behind the industries of the future, not those of the past.
It also makes a mockery of the whole EU acting as one. Effectively, it gives the lie to the idea of the European Union as a coherent entity. Furthermore, this situation is not about to end soon: in theory, CAP subsidies have been set until 2013, and it doesn't look like the French are going to give them up any time soon. This is bad news, both for us and the Developing World. Still, The Grauniad can't resist a bit of US-bashing.
There is a strong case for ending the CAP altogether - even if no other country reciprocates - since this would free money for other priorities, including countryside management. In the real world, however, that is not politically possible; so the next best thing is to use concessions as a lever to gain matching ones from the US and Japan, the other two giant recipients of subsidies.
Now, I don't know about Japan, but I do know that Bush came to the G8 offering concessions on subsidies; US negotiators in the Doha talks have been the first to offer similar concessions. The EU has not had to "lever" them into anything; in fact, rather the opposite is true.
One of the justifications for holding EU subsidies in place has been the childish "America does it too" argument. The fact is, that the US has offered significant cuts, and the EU has had no answer to it. All the EU has offered is some piddling cuts in the highest tariffs, and all Mandelson can say is "the French won't let me do it". It's fucking pathetic. Please, please, can we leave now?
Seriously, let's leave the EU. Our large trade deficit with Europe shows that they need our market rather more than we need theirs, so we should easily—if whoever has our leaders' balls hidden away could give them back for a while—to negotiate favoured trading status (much like Iceland, etc.). We can then have our £6 billion back, and use it to invest in other markets, e.g. Africa and Asia. This would also allow us unfettered access to cheaper goods, thus further enriching our people.
Let the EU sink, and let us stride forward with vision: we can enrich ourselves and others and become, once more, a major economic force in the world. So what if we are a small island? We are a rich island, as islands go, and we still have a large amount of political clout. Our alliance with the world's only superpower ensures our security; and yet there is no reason why we should, as many Lefties persist in saying, become the 51st state of the US. We have all to play for, and we can win.
But as a parting gift, we'll let the EU keep Mandelson and Kinnock...