Speech by James Cleverly MP: 'How the EU's Common Agricultural Policy is making African farmers poorer.

"They’re starving back in China so finish what you’ve got”.

This is a line from John Lennon’s 1984 single “Nobody told me”

It is a reference to the words that parents used in the 1960s to persuade their children to finish their vegetables.

It was a phrase that Lennon and millions of other people of his generation would have heard as children. 

The famine caused by Mao Zedong's communist policies, killed an estimated 15 to 20 million people between 1959 and 1961.

The Bihar famine of the late 1960s and the 1972 Maharashtra drought, though far less deadly,  led my parents generation to tell kids like me in the 1970s to think of those starving in India.

The 1980s saw the terrible famine in Ethiopia, so in the 1980s children were told to think of the poor starving Africans when confronted with broccoli or Brussel Sprouts.

The areas that were once used to guilt trip children into eating up their food have now been transformed.

Their economies at the time were too fragile to withstand the impact of extreme weather events.

China and India are both now economic powerhouses.

They are transformed. 

Neither is completely free from problems but the widespread crushing poverty of previous decades has been defeated through trade and commerce.

I believe that open, honest and fair trade is the best vehicle for lifting people out of poverty.

I believe this not because I read about it in a book or heard it in a lecture theatre but because I have seen the impact of these things through my own life in places like India and China.

The days that the dragon and tiger economies are used as a metaphor for starvation, hunger and poverty are over. 


Africa is not there yet.

My mother was from Sierra Leone so I hope that you will forgive me for being passionate about that continent and focusing on it during this speech.

Africa, as a continent, is unfortunately still synonymous with poverty and hardship.  

I have no doubt that Africa’s time will come

but it is currently being held back.

There are many reasons why Africa hasn’t progressed as quickly as any of us had hoped

War, natural disaster, inept or corrupt governments

These things have all had their parts to play. 

and I don’t pretend that there are any quick fixes.

But one of the saddest and most disturbing drivers of Africa’s continued poverty is global food policy,

Particularly the EU’s food policies.

The EU’s protectionist attitudes, particularly in food, keeps poor African farmers poor.

This is particularly ironic as the European Coal and Steel Community, the forerunner of the European Union was designed to prevent war, and prevent poverty through free trade.

That coal and steel community expanded both its activities and number of member states to became the EU we see today.

It loudly promotes free market principles but on a global stage, it spectacularly fails to deliver.

Far from levelling the playing field the EU reinforces the structural inequalities that favour big businesses and powerful countries at the expense of developing nations.


We criticize the impact that China’s cheap steel has on our British steel workers.

We describe China’s dumping of heavily subsidised products onto world markets as unfair competition. 

We get angry that their practices make it almost impossible for our British steel industry to match their artificially low prices

And that this product dumping puts the livelihood of thousands of Britain steel workers at risk. 


That is exactly what the EU has done to farmers in the developing world for decades.

The Common Agricultural Policy subsidizes continental european farmers to produce food in  quantities that we cannot eat.

Those heavily subsidised surpluses completely distort African and other markets.

They undercut the prices of domestically produced food.

They make it impossible for impoverished African farmers to compete,

Impossible for them to make a sustainable living.

We are understandably and justifiably angry at the situation of our steel workers.


If our steel workers lose their jobs, if they cannot work, we have an effective safety net to catch them.

We can help them keep a roof over their heads and food on their tables.

I do not want to understate the pain of losing the jobs that they love or the fear of losing their livelihoods 

Or underplay the impact on generations of communities when major industries close. 

but our welfare system is there to protect them.

If those African farmers cannot sell their produce because they are being undercut by the artificially cheap, subsidised food produced by the EU,

If they cannot sell the only thing they have of commercial value, they have nothing.

No welfare system, 

no state protection,

They are forced into subsistence farming, not able to build up any kind of savings or surpluses. 

And when you live like that, when you have no economic buffer, when there is no state support

one bad season means economic ruin for you and your family. 

A couple of bad seasons means starvation. 

This is the unintended but inevitable impact of decades of EU’s food policies.

These policies contribute to Africa, as a continent, importing over 80% of it’s food.

A continent with an estimated 600 million hectares of uncultivated arable farmland 

A continent with millions of people able to work on the land

yet still unable to feed itself.

I don’t know about you but the fact that for decades EU policies have driven African farmers deeper into poverty is something I find morally repugnant.


When a continent which can’t yet compete in the service sector or the manufactured goods sector is also denied the chance to develop its agricultural sector we should stop and take note.

We should ask ourselves if we are really comfortable with that as a status quo. 


But that isn't even the worst of it.

Research by Harvard University’s Professor Calestous Juma found that in 2014 the whole continent of Africa made just under 2.4 billion dollars from coffee exports.

In the same year Germany made 3.8 billion dollars from coffee exports.

Germany doesn’t even grow coffee.

One European country which doesn't grow a single bean of coffee made more money from the crop than a whole continent which does.


Because the EU imposes trade tariffs on processed coffee. 

Germany’s coffee processors need cheap raw coffee to make money, so there is no tariff on green, unroasted coffee beans.

These are not so much trade barriers but more like a one way valve,

They help industrialists in Europe stay profitable at the expense of African farmers. 

This is protectionism pure and simple.

Unsurprisingly, this regime means that the vast bulk of African coffee exports is unroasted, undecaffeinated green coffee beans.

The tariffs on cocoa are even more severe and hopelessly complicated.

Europe loves chocolate.

Almost half of all the chocolate eaten in the world is consumed by Europeans.

I must confess that I have made a substantial personal contribution to that statistic myself. 

But once again we see a system that helps big, rich, powerful companies in Europe get the cheap raw materials they need while preventing potential competitors in developing countries from entering the market. 

The EU charges a range of tariffs of up to 30 per cent for processed cocoa products like chocolate bars or cocoa powder, and up to 60 per cent for some other refined cocoa products.

While EU based companies need raw materials from Africa to make money the EU prevents Africa from competing on a level playing field in processed coffee and chocolate.

And it is in processed products that the profit lies. 

It is in the branding, the packaging, the marketing where you can really add value. 

If you can only sell unrefined beans into the global commodity markets you are at the mercy of forces beyond your control.

There is always the option to buy fair trade products. 

These are marketed as coming straight from the growers, 

A means of helping those poor farmers and cutting out the big companies. 

They are a worthy attempt to help these growers but the EU tariffs mean that they will always be far more expensive than other brands. 

The price of fair trade products keeps them niche, and their price is driven by the EU’s tariff policy. 

We all love chocolate, but are we really comfortable supporting a regime that so unfairly prevents cocoa producing countries from selling chocolate bars to us at competitive prices?

There is also a knock on effect.

What is the point in investing in a coffee processing plant or chocolate factory in Africa if the end product is so heavily penalized by the EU?

Africa needs the development of middle tier industries, agricultural processing, packaging and distribution. 

But investment in these sectors is currently unappealing because it is exactly that processing function that is penalised by tariffs. 

The EU’s tariff regime disincentivizes exactly the kind of investment that Africa needs to lift itself out of poverty and aid dependency.

That is not a fact that I'm proud of that's not something I want to perpetuate. 


But should we care?

After all, we are not in Africa.

There may be those amongst you who think we should be hard hearted.

Perhaps you feel that Africa’s problems are for Africans to deal with and are not our concern at all.

Perhaps you are comfortable giving a bit of aid money or sponsoring a goat as a Christmas present 

while maintaining punitive trade barriers which prevent African and other developing nations lift themselves out of poverty in the way that India and China have been able to. 

Well I can’t agree with you.

I don’t want to perpetuate a system which so aggressively prevents millions of people from helping themselves and trading their way out of poverty.

But even if you don’t agree with me on that point.

Even if I can’t appeal to your heart.

Let me appeal to your wallets.

You’re paying for this.


You are paying for those subsidies via our EU contribution.

The EU is keeping some of the poorest people in the world poor and it is using your money to do it.

Can you really say you're happy about that?


But what about our farmers?

They receive EU subsidies too.

Many of our farmers are struggling to keep their farms going. 

Yet even in this area the EU is no real friend. 

Every week we send 350 million pounds to the EU. 

Of course we get a bit of that back through farm subsidies, 

Just enough to keep our farming industry addicted to EU membership. 

But think about what happens to the rest of the money,

It goes, in large part, to those heavily subsidised farms on the continent. 

In 2014 we paid 4.6 billion pounds into the Common Agricultural Policy but only got 2.9 back.

Our farmers are being taxed to subsidise their competitors to keep African farmers in poverty. 

Whichever way you look at it,

From an African farmers point of view

Or from a British farmers point of view, 

it's indefensible. 


Perhaps we could persuade the EU to change.

Perhaps we could end the EU tariffs. 

Perhaps we could end the food dumping once and for all.


But I haven’t seen any appetite for this from the bureaucrats in the EU. 

Even though it has been criticised by everyone from hard line free marketeers to the most left wing of charities

Reform of the Common Agricultural Policy has been glacially slow.

Even with the UK, one of the largest net contributors to the EU budget, contemplating withdrawal it wasn’t on the negotiating table.

The EU doesn’t get it.

The EU talks fair trade but maintains the most unfair trading practices.

The EU won’t change its damaging policies towards the developing world because it doesn’t see the need to change. 

But Britain isn’t like that.

Not the Britain I know. 

Not the Britain I love.

Our country cares about the developing world.

Our country wants to trade with the world.

Our country wants to see prosperity not just for its own people but for all people.

But our membership of the EU prevents us from fulfilling this desire

because the EU has shown itself completely unwilling to embrace reform in this area. 

So I cannot understand how anyone who is African

Or of African heritage 

Or who cares about Africa and her people

Or cares about anyone trapped in poverty in the developing world

Can, with a clear conscience, allow this situation to persist. 


That is why I believe that it is in our interest.

And in the interest of our current trading partners and future trading partners

for Britain to look beyond the narrow confines and vested interests of the EU and forge a truly global future.

To tear down the trade barriers which damage global fair trade. 

Turn our minds to the billions of people around the world

in countries with the potential for huge economic growth.

Billions of people who would leap at the chance to sell to us

and more importantly to buy from us.

The EU is too introspective, too timid, too self obsessed to understand or embrace these opportunities. 

That is why I am campaigning for us to leave the EU.

That is why I will vote to leave the EU.

And that is why I urge you all to do the same.

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