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45th International Agricultural Show

Published on March 5, 2008
Speech by M. Nicolas Sarkozy, President of the Republic, (excerpts)

Paris, February 23, 2008

(…)

FRENCH AGRICULTURE

My firm belief is that at the beginning of the twenty-first century, agriculture is strategic – strategic for France, but, my dear European friends, strategic for Europe too. (…)

Farming is a job, the farmer an entrepreneur, there’s know-how and a desire to be paid for this know-how.

France is the world’s leading exporter of processed agricultural products. Our trade balance surplus in this sector – and Michel Barnier will correct me if I’m wrong – was €9 billion in 2007. We must keep this major asset for the French economy. Agriculture is an element of our strategic economy. Agriculture isn’t simply a pool of nostalgia showing us how our land was 200 years ago. Agriculture is a high-tech sector of the French economy, as high-tech as the aerospace and nanotechnology sectors. (…)

I wanted to support an agricultural sector which contributes to the sustainable development of our country and Europe, and ensures the safety of our food products. I know that a number of you – you took part in the Grenelle Environment Forum – feared being the Forum’s victims. I thank you for taking part in it because for a very long time I’ve thought that farmers were the primary victims of pesticides and not the primary culprits. And creating opposition between farmers and ecologists serves no purpose. We’ve been able to sign unprecedented agreements between organizations which wouldn’t even consider meeting each other last September!

I pay tribute to your leaders who have agreed to engage in this discussion. The daily effort made by French agriculture to adapt to the new requirements must be recognized at EU level. I want to say this, I’d like there to be, at EU level, (…) greater harmonization of environmental and health standards inside Europe. We must have the same standards if we want quality and safety for European consumers. Competition between the different countries’ farmers must be fair. (…)

EU

At European level, there is an immense amount of work to be done on the Common Agricultural Policy to adapt it to the new challenges. I am going to face up to my responsibilities; I am determined to go on the attack on this essential issue. (…) In the first place, the Common Agricultural Policy is the most important European policy. Those who want to destroy the CAP don’t believe in Europe. Might I add that for the European agricultural sector, there’s no reason for us to leave the field free for our American friends and American farmers. (…)

WTO

You know very well that the future of agriculture isn’t decided solely in Paris and Brussels. It’s decided first of all in Geneva. I want to say a word about the WTO. (…) I think that Europe must defend its interests far more resolutely, and I regret Europe agreeing to increasingly important concessions and getting nothing in return. This is a dead-end attitude. So I’m asking for the negotiations at the World Trade Organization to restart on a sound basis with clarified objectives and for things to be clear.

The government of the French Republic will firmly oppose any agreement sacrificing the interests of French and European agriculture. As there has to be unanimity, everyone must today face up to their responsibilities. To be sure of being perfectly understood, I might add that I’m told the agreement will create the conditions for growth, yet to my knowledge we haven’t had an agreement for seven or eight years and world growth has never been so strong. Let no one come and explain to me – I prefer there to be an agreement, but not on absolutely any conditions – that if there’s no agreement there’s no growth, because the French, like all Europeans, can see that for seven or eight years it’s been the exact opposite.

Moreover, I can’t see why anyone would blame Europe for defending its interests when the United States of America defends its own so energetically, so passionately and so effectively when it comes to its agriculture. That should give us pause for thought, because the United States has understood that its "green power" enjoyed a supremacy.

People can no longer continue inflicting on our agricultural businesses an environmental dumping, social dumping, fiscal dumping and currency dumping, all daily increasing in scale, going far beyond what’s being discussed in hushed tones in Geneva. I don’t want to perturb them, but they mustn’t count on my signature to continue at this tempo under these conditions.

We are constantly moving a bit further away from our initial objectives in this round. The emerging countries think they have only rights and no duties. I believe in the emergence of the world powers of China, India, South Africa – where I’m going next week – Mexico and Brazil. In the international arena I fight for these countries to have rights commensurate with their huge size. But I tell them equally forcefully: "You haven’t just got rights, you’ve also got duties".

G8/G13

This is also why I’m fighting to get the G8 transformed into the G13, because the idea that we can resolve the world’s great problems without inviting an African country, without inviting a South American country and forgetting China and India, seems to me unreasonable, and to my mind the word is a weak one.

EU/CAP

Finally, at EU level, I want – with the European Commission and its President, José Manuel Barroso, whom I support, who is a man of high calibre – a genuine remodelling of the Common Agricultural Policy. (…)

We have immediately to go on the offensive in our discussions. Do we have to wait for the forthcoming negotiations on the future of the CAP in 2013? I want a break with conservatism and the status quo.

I am convinced that we need a new CAP, one on a new footing. This is why I propose that, starting on 1 July this year, the French European Union presidency conduct two different but profoundly complementary exercises.

The first will be the CAP’s "health check". The Commission made proposals back in November. These are being actively discussed under the Slovenian presidency and it will be for the French presidency to conclude the negotiations satisfactorily in the second half of the year. I know it’s essentially a technical exercise, but it’s an important one since the decisions we will take in this framework will be applied as early as 2009. I want to be clear: I shall ensure that this exercise provides the opportunity to embark as early as 2009 – and I weigh my words – on putting the conditions for implementing the CAP in our country on a new footing, which will be achieved in a way which is totally consistent with our political objectives for 2013. (…)

Satisfactorily concluding this exercise under our presidency is, of course, useful only if we are in agreement – this is the second exercise – on the objectives of the new CAP. It doesn’t do any harm to be a bit methodical.

I am going to propose to our partners, with the European Parliament, a major player in the Common Agricultural Policy – and I’ll be having meetings with the seven group chairmen before the French presidency, and the Commission – a discussion on a new political framework applicable in 2013, for our agriculture in Europe. The aim is not to call into question the budget agreement, which runs until 2013, or pre-empt the forthcoming discussion on the general revision of Community policies. It’s to give new coherence to the Common Agricultural Policy by getting agreement between ourselves on the objectives which have to guide us. The discussion on the budget will come afterwards. The budget is the consequence; the cause, it’s the objectives; this is the method. We’re not going to talk about the budget until we’ve got agreement on the objectives. We’re going to get agreement on the objectives and then we’ll adopt a budget to deliver them.

CAP/FOUR OBJECTIVES

I have four objectives:

Food security – as I told the agricultural trade unions – is a major challenge for 400 million European consumers. You are the guarantors of food security. This means a regular, accessible supply of food guaranteed to meet public health standards. This means defending the diversity, tastes and flavours of our food. I can’t bring myself to accept the standardization of our food model. And it also means not leaving European food supplies at the mercy of speculation and the lowest common denominator at the public health and environmental levels. Indeed, I can’t see why we should impose on our breeders very tough and very justified rules on traceability and animal welfare and go on bringing in meat from other parts of the world on which we impose no rules on either animal welfare or traceability. The same consumers are going to buy it. There’s no reason for it.

The second objective: we must contribute to the global food balances. Listen, looking at the world, what explains the rise in farm prices if it isn’t the growing demand for food, particularly in Asia, where so many people die of hunger – no one’s going to tell us that we’ve too many farmers.

The third objective is to contribute to fighting climate change and improving the environment.

And the fourth objective, in my view, is to preserve the balances in our rural areas.

I would like a method of managing markets which makes farmers and the food industry more aware of their responsibilities.

- a revamped Community preference system. Here things are progressing. (…) Community preference isn’t a rude word. Europe has been built precisely for there to be Community preference, or else it shouldn’t have been built. Europe has been built to create the conditions of a market for developing a European agriculture to which we give preference over the others. I might add that, since global prices are rising, it’s precisely the moment for there to be a Community preference system. I might also add that we have to have reciprocity and end the naivety in discussions with the EU. (…)

I propose that the Council of Agriculture Ministers debate the issue. Naturally, as President of the EU, I shall personally take a close interest in it. (…)

Often in the past, people have said: "but what do you know about farming?" Admittedly, I wasn’t brought up on a farm – with the amount of books written about me, you must know that – but the values of the farming world are ones I’m very familiar with. They are those of work, effort, merit, freedom – the freedom to work –, they are those of family, solidarity with family, with colleagues, with the land and the villages. Those values have built France. I wasn’t elected in order to drop them; they are the ones which deep down I believe in. I might add that if our country areas are allowed to die, that disaster today will tomorrow be the tragedy of our towns. There isn’t on one side the countryside and on the other the town. If people can no longer live in the countryside, they will be forced to go to our towns, where there isn’t any housing, there isn’t enough work or quality of life. I really feel, coming here to this show – I apologise for talking for a bit too long, but as you see, I’ve spoken with the passion I have for what you represent and what French agriculture represents – that I am defending a French model of civilization (…)./.

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