A new round of negotiations on the Transatlantic Partnership was held in New York between April 20 and 24, 2015. At this time, nobody still believes in the practicality of a political agreement before the end of 2015. The new plausible deadline is 2017, that is after the US presidential election. Yet, the agreement is, now more than ever, stirring up controversy among politicians, professionals as well as an increasingly organized civil society, especially regarding such sensitive issues as agriculture.
In an interview granted to the regional daily La Montagne1 that we are excepting in its entirety below, the chief executive officer of Groupe Limagrain and of momagri questions the consequences of a transatlantic partnership. For Daniel Chéron, agriculture is a specific and strategic sector. It cannot be treated as an umpteenth asset, and sacrificed for the sake of liberalization in international arenas, such as the WTO or in the framework of free trade agreements. By going all out for a total removal of trade barriers would imply the uniformity of agricultural policies, when there is no “accounting standard” in agriculture to compare the reality of agricultural support, and more generally the agricultural policies implemented and their enforcement procedures in the major producing countries.
In the framework of the current TTIP negotiations, Daniel Chéron alerts us on the fact that European agriculture does not have the same munitions as American agriculture does. Is it not time for Brussels to make some changes at the next CAP revision? And more generally to recommend the creation of a new specific international body beside the WTO, as advocated by Daniel Chéron?
momagri Editorial Board
Daniel Chéron, has been Chief Executive Officer of Limagrain––the world’s fourth largest seed producer––since 2006. He holds very strong views against concluding a free trade agreement with the United States concerning agriculture. He explains why.
Why are you opposed to the liberalization of agricultural trade with the United States?
The demonstration stating that such trade liberalization will generate hundreds million of dollars and become a key component of economic development is not very convincing. On this issue, the greatest harm comes from combining agriculture and industry. The two sectors cannot be compared.
For what reasons?
First, because only an exceedingly small proportion of the world’s agricultural production––about 10 percent––is traded. We should have a global agricultural organization that is separate from the World Trade Organization (WTO) to address this issue, since the price variations of agricultural commodities strongly vary from country to country. Secondly, agriculture is endowed with an important cultural value in terms of consumption and nutrition. For instance, while hormone-treated beef is not an issue in the United States, it is not the case in France and in Europe. Food products are not standardized goods from one country to the next. It is impossible to compare them, just as one compares cars. I say it again; it is an eminently cultural issue.
Isn’t the issue of standards on both sides of the Atlantic also a major hindrance to the conclusion of an agreement?
For me, the liberalization of prices is secondary compared to the discussion on standards. This is why we feel that this treaty will never see the light of day at the announced deadline of 2016.
Considering the gap in agricultural support policies, isn’t there also a threat of unfair competition?
Indeed. Contrary to the European Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the American Farm Bill safeguards guaranteed prices to farmers. The US Government funds the gap between market prices and objective prices, which includes production costs. This insurance system can offset market fluctuations, while maintaining some flexibility with the possibility to carry forward the budgetary package over seven years.
Might Europe thus be weakened?
As long as the rules are not similar, Europe might become vulnerable. In order to have a level playing field, we must implement an equivalent mechanism in Europe––maybe a reserve management system––to regulate prices. Without it, any agreement is meaningless. A potential treaty must be based on the realities of agriculture. We are not dealing with oil, where turning off the valve stops production.
1 Monday, April 13, 2014 issue, Section Agriculture and Free Trade. Daily’s website: