Speaking to the press in Washington D.C. last week the EU Commissioner for Agriculture, Rural Development and Fisheries announced that he would table concrete proposals on how to reform the EU's support system for sugar.
"The EU farm policy has completely changed, especially as a result of the June 2003 reform. At the moment, our common agricultural policy represents less than 1 per cent of total EU public expenditure, a figure that has been steadily declining in recent years. We will continue our reforms. Before summer, I will table proposals on how to make the EU's sugar regime more market oriented and trade friendly, and I expect the EU to take a similar decision on EU support for cotton, tobacco and olive oil in March,' he said.
The Commissioner reminded our American neighbours that the failure of Cancun - the WTO talks last September - was a missed opportunity which 'left no winners but only losers, especially the developing countries,' he said. At the time a coalition of twenty one (G21) developing countries led by Brazil, India, China and South Africa challenge the traditional dominance of rich countries. They contested that 'trade distorting' policies from western countries was a barrier to trade for developing countries. But speaking last week in Washington Fischler said that in recent months and weeks, the EU has repeatedly moved from its initial position.
"We have shown a lot of flexibility. We have reformed our farm policy. Trade distorting farm support in Europe has come down by a whopping 70 per cent in the last decade. Reforms in the right direction have to be recognised, not penalised. If the different impact of different farm policies on world markets, prices and developing countries is ignored, why bother to reform?"he asked.
Fischler welcomed the recent initiative by US trade representative Bob Zoellick to re-launch the WTO talks by reaching out to the developing countries, while making a dig at the need for the US to look again at subsidies.
"He could have been slightly more outspoken about also tackling forms of export subsidies the US uses. The US spent US$ 3.2 billion in 2003 for export credits to give their exporters an unfair edge on the world market, billions are spent on export promotion under the guise of "food aid" And even free traders like Canada, Australia or New Zealand's distort trade by maintaining state trading monopolies. All these export promotion tools harm developing countries, so they have to go, as well, not only European export refunds," said the Commissioner.
Moving onto the sensitive issue of biotechnology Fischler was the voice of appeasement. The Commission - under pressure from the US to lift the GM moratorium on GM crops - has been criticised by consumer groups as well as environmental organisations for toeing the US line.
"The European Commission doesn't say GM is evil. We don't say it's unsafe either millions of tonnes of scientifically approved GM maize and soya are already being used in the EU. But we believe in giving our consumers a real choice, and that is why labelling GMOs as such is so important.
Trying to sneak GMOs in through the backdoor, or forcing them down consumers' throats will backfire. It won't foster trust, but distrust among our people. We are serious about delivering on our international promises,"he concluded.
Last year Fischler brought in reform to the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP, a somewhat diluted version of the original proposition laid many months ago before European ministers.
Fischler set out to reshape the CAP to ensure that only needy farmers are subsidised, and only necessary food is produced, avoiding the food mountains of the past. Instead, he proposed a system of 'decoupling', of single farm payments, independent from production. For this year, the EU has earmarked over €90bn in subsidies.