Commentary: Medreset Policy Brief 3 – (EU Policies on Agriculture and Rural Development in the MENA ) - by Karina Goulordava
The European Policy Brief, “EU Policies on Agriculture and Rural Development in the MENA” discusses the current EU policy approaches towards southern and eastern Mediterranean countries (SEM), and how policies can be better formulated in order to both strengthen agriculture and rural development in the SEM, and create stronger ties between SEM and northern Mediterranean countries within these sectors. The brief evaluates the current policy approaches as technocratic and depoliticized. It recommends instead a new lens to policy, one that considers socioeconomic, cultural, and legal contexts.
Of interest in this comment is the relationship between the SEM and northern European countries, and how competitive ties can sway agricultural and rural development policy approaches. As stated in the brief, SEM countries are the largest grain importer for the EU, and a significant importer of dairy and meat products. Thereby, the needs and consumption of SEM countries are crucial for EU grain, meat, and dairy markets. At the same time, SEM countries primarily export to the EU produce (fruits and vegetables) and olive oil. The contrast in import and export of the SEM shows that while the EU exports staple, and high cost and quantity products, SEM countries export more seasonal and also likely cheaper products. Simultaneously, while SEM countries produce little grain, meat, or dairy, northern Mediterranean countries produce large amounts of produce as well as olive oil. Therefore, while SEM countries cannot compete with the EU and specifically with northern Mediterranean countries for their main imports, the northern Mediterranean countries can produce their own produce and olive oil (Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece).
Although EU trade policy with SEM countries has become less protective and shifted to development, focusing also on water and rural development, northern Mediterranean and other EU countries still have their concerns. Northern Mediterranean countries do not trust the health, safety standards, and quality of produce from SEM countries. True, SEM countries have different production standards and laws regarding fertilizers. The use of some fertilizers is common in SEM countries, while prohibited in the EU, making export more difficult. If the EU does not shift its agricultural and rural development policies to also include knowledge transfer, training in best practices, and a focus on alternative fertilizers, in the end their policies remain protective and benefit EU agricultural producers. Approaching this also from an environmental perspective, the above-mentioned approach to policies, would benefit the local SEM environment. After all, even if SEM countries do not view the Mediterranean as one shared space, as mentioned in the brief, the sea is in reality shared by the entire region. It has already been claimed by the Greek government that Lebanese pollution has reached Greek waters, and thus a focus on pollution reduction, including in the agricultural sector, would benefit the entirety of the Mediterranean region, and in line with global goals to combat climate change.
Moving further away from a protective trade approach, although knowledge transfer and training from north to south would likely make SEM countries more competitive, it would also improve the quality, safety, and health of SEM products that are consumed by the region’s dwellers. Further, if SEM countries were able to produce more of their own grain, dairy, and meat, this could reduce some impact on the environment (although meat and dairy is a high pollutant to the environment globally). Considering the Lebanese case, Lebanon imports 80% of all food products, although it produces almost 100% of its fruit and vegetable needs. Reducing food import could be a focus of EU agricultural and rural development policy in Lebanon.