29 July 2006

Farm subsidies are evil

Daniel Davies writes about agricultural support on the Guardian's website, under the heading Africa does not need more expensive food. He believes that farm subsidies in the west reduce prices of food for African countries. It is true that there are some net food importing developing countries who would lose out in the short term if subsidised overproduction from the west were not available. However, the net losses to the developing world as a result of farm subsidies are much greater, I believe. Once I receive confirmation of registration from the Guardian, I will post a comment along these lines:

"Daniel, I don't think anybody objects to flat subsidies to farmers that are fully decoupled from production. The problem I think is that these are not the main way in which farmers in the rich countries are supported. I don't have the latest figures, but OECD data for 2003 show that market price support to agriculture in the rich countries amounted to US$160 billion. These mainly take the form of import barriers rather than budgetary subsidies. They raise consumer prices, hence they are transfers from consumers (not taxpayers) to farmers. The CAP's import barriers do therefore constitute a volume subsidy. The effects on the food-rich third world countries are cumulative; these barriers have been around for decades. So they may well help explain exactly why there are no good roads or railways in Africa. High tariffs not only inhibit exports; they also export price instability to the rest of the world. You say you can't have a development strategy based on low value-added commodities. Granted the sums of cash may not be large to us; but they would mean more to Africa. And didn't Argentina, New Zealand and Australia start out on their route to prosperity by exporting bulk agricultural commodities?"

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