[People] The End of Farm Subsidies – Fr. Shay Cullen

The End of Farm Subsidies
(Fr. Shay’s columns are published in The Manila Times,
in publications in Ireland, the UK, Hong Kong, and on-line.)

Berlin – Last week in Berlin, the city that never stops rebuilding, I was representing Preda Fair Trade and was present on a tourist barge for the launch of the Fair Trade Fortnight with the leading personalities in the Fair Trade movement and the assembled members of the media.

As we cruised along the canal, the boat decked out with hundreds of balloons and passed by the new gleaming government buildings. The guest speaker from the Federal Government Secretary of State, Hans-Jurgen Beerfeltz, gave a remarkable speech. He emphasized the growing and effective impact of Fair Trade in Germany reaching hundreds of millions of Euro in sales and the remarkable economic human prosperity and development that this trade justice is bringing to the lives of the once impoverished producers in the developing countries.

Preda Fair Trade is the biggest fair trade organization in the Philippines and has been a leading campaigner for greater economic justice and equality in the Philippines and all developing nations. Fair Trade practice is a wide ranging practice of trading in a just and morally right way that respects the farmers and craft producers and pay them fairly, having strong, long term, and sustainable trading partnerships.

Other Fair Traders like Preda spend more money from trading to protect and advocate the human rights and implement social services to victims of abuse and deliver other benefits to the producers. Also, customers in the developed countries are encouraged to buy mostly fair trade food and crafts and that’s their way to support global trade justice.

When the State Secretary went on to say, to an utterly surprised and disbelieving audience, that the German Federal Government was determined to end agricultural subsidies to German farmers by 2013 and work for the end of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), few could believe it.

CAP is the program by which thousands of farmers of the 27 member countries receive financial incentives and support from their governments supported by the European Union.

This has been one of the priority goals of the sustained campaign of the Fair Trade and all non-government development agencies and organizations for decades. Many, who were present that day, were wondering if this was a radical change in government policy or more vague promises. The secretary of state’s remarks were verbal and recorded by the media but not handed out in a prepared speech. Yet Hans-Jurgen Beerfeltz repeated this and made it clear if the other EU members did not agree, Germany would do it alone and give the lead.

Farming subsidies have been the nightmare of poor farmers in the developing world since the subsidies encourage farmers to produce more food and create huge surpluses. For years, these food surpluses were kept in refrigerated warehouses at huge cost and the officials lobbied and maneuvered the end of import tariffs in these poorer countries so they could dump the surplus food stocks and get some money back.

Local farmers took the hit. They could not compete with such low-priced products and this has caused the bankruptcy of thousands of farmers who can’t sell their produce. We are awaiting the confirmation of the change in policy of the German federal government

Last August, a delegation of German parliamentarians on the Committee for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) joined the Preda child rescue team and visited a jail in Metro Manila and saw the inhuman conditions that Preda is trying to change.  Manuel, a 15 year-old boy charged for stealing was released that very day to the Preda social workers for life transformation. This is an indication of how important they consider the connection of Fair Trade and the commitment to oppose exploitative work and the trafficking of persons and especially the evil trade practice of abducting and selling children into sex slavery.

As a guest speaker that day in Berlin, together with the Secretary of State, it is encouraging that the federal government supports in action the Fair Trade practices for NGO’s like Preda Fair Trade with a strong human rights and social development agenda.

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