Wednesday, 4 March 2020

Sunlight is the best disinfectant

From Euractiv: European honey producers are calling for an emergency action plan to be put in place to save the sector, pointing to a drop in production across the EU and a rise in cheap imports. Faced with a “critical and extremely volatile” market situation, EU honey producers, alongside farmers association COPA-COGECA, launched an appeal for a "strong and rapid response” from Brussels.

The difference in prices, they say, can “only be explained by the major addition of sugar syrup, which is cheaper for production and difficult to detect during border controls in Europe and by a definition and honey production method in China that does not conform to European standards". 

They then go on to argue the obvious that "beekeeping and the pollination services it provides, together with wild pollinators, are essential for European farming and horticulture as well as biodiversity. This situation therefore threatens other sectors in addition to our own".

As ever, that's exactly what you'd expect an industry lobby to say when faced with cheaper competition. You always have to take their arguments with a pinch of salt and it always requires independent investigation. This would presumably fall to EFSA which is not known for its independence from lobbyists. But then in this instance, when you're dealing with bandit regimes like India or China, the accusations are probably true.

This, though, is a long established and expanding frontier of protectionism - or rather eco-protectionism, seeking special favour in the name of the environment. As a smokescreen for protectionism it's ideal because it's harder to disprove at the WTO - but there are certainly strong conservation arguments to be had about trade and unfair competition - which the EU certainly recognises by way of its environmental level playing field provisions. This is a textbook case. 

But it does rather underscore the point that we do not want unfettered "free trade". And in fact, when there are strategic and environmental concerns to take into account, we do not want to be asking permission from Brussels to act - not least when it that kind of horse trading can take up to a decade. A lot of damage can be done in the meantime. Just ask fishermen. This is also why safeguard measures in FTAs are critically important.

It is interesting that the UK Greens are so fervently and uncritically europhile when, if they paid any real attention to green issues in European politics, they would know that some of the fiercest and robust (and accurate) critiques of EU regulation and trade come from green NGOs. The Green Party of yore was once eurosceptic as it gets, fearing the dominance of Monsanto and food giants in the regulatory process.

As regards to this honey case, it's certainly one to watch. With colony collapse disorder in the frame we may see rapid and decisive action but it may be wholly ineffectual. EU industry lobbyists won't be the only actors in the decision making process - a process in which money talks and science can be made to say what you want it to say.

Typically remainers buy into the facadism of the EU which public promotes ecological causes, incorporating such themes into trade and regulation, but its all to often judged by its intent rather than the actual outcomes. In this instance, the EU's drive for "free trade" is potentially contributing to a serious ecological disaster. We have to wonder, therefore, why the emphasis on stringent environmental level playing field provisions are demanded of the UK, but not of China - and whether such provisions would be enforceable even if China agreed to them.  

Ultimately this is the new politics of trade rendering simplistic arguments over tariffs redundant. Protectionism has many faces - and it is ultimately the task of politics to decide whether the reasons are justified or not. That is a matter for democracy - which is why it was necessary to take back control of our trade. Brexit has repatriated decisions over trade, bringing the debate closer to home and into the light of day. 

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