Tuesday, December 20, 2005

French love and other causes celebres

Saubhik Chakrabarti's amusing take on the West's obsession with farm subsidies. The 2013 deadline for phasing them out, decided at the recently concluded Hong Kong ministerial is only a diversionary tactic to take the focus away from the contentious issue. Economics is only one aspect of the story, he claims. History and romance combine to form a potent force that's stopping European leaders from reaching a final and abiding settlement.
France, in fact, is the grandest example of Europe’s love for farm subsidies. That love, like many things French, has complicated, interesting and often enchanting dimensions. Eating is a serious, aesthetic, fussy business in France—wild game sold in small markets of particular localities cannot be substituted by supermarket meat. Farmers who produce these and other treats cannot be substituted by factory agriculture or, horror, third world imports. Farm subsidies are seen as a vital support system for this producer-consumer interface that makes few concessions to modern supply chains. If you have no idea about France, you will have no idea how enormously important this issue is. It’s not about trade losses; it’s about a way of life. It’s about romance. It’s about “national identity”.

The second dimension is political/historical. Many French politicians firmly believe that growing your own food, even if it is expensive, is much better than importing. They draw this belief mostly from Gaullist traditions, which equate food self-sufficiency with national security. France’s defeat at the hands of Nazi Germany and its difficult re-birth as a wholly sovereign entity were marked by severe food shortages. The collective memory persists. So, there are hardly any French politicians, from the Right or the Left, who will argue for cheaper food imports. Some of them are prepared to go to great lengths to do this.
Interesting "diversionary tactic" from the vapid and unengaging reporting this issue's been getting in the MSM.

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