Sunday, May 25, 2008

A movable defeat

"Food has moved around the world since Europeans brought tea from China, but never at the speed or in the amounts it has over the last few years. Consumers in not only the richest nations but, increasingly, the developing world expect food whenever they crave it, with no concession to season or geography.

The European Union, the world’s leading food importer, has increased imports 20 percent in the last five years. The value of fresh fruit and vegetables imported by the United States, in second place, nearly doubled from 2000 to 2006.

Under a little-known international treaty called the Convention on International Civil Aviation, signed in Chicago in 1944 to help the fledgling airline industry, fuel for international travel and transport of goods, including food, is exempt from taxes, unlike trucks, cars and buses. There is also no tax on fuel used by ocean freighters. " (Thanks D. and Yaz)

It's a bit old (one month) but this is a very current issue. There are 2 important issues here:

1. It is often claimed that limiting access of products from the South into Northern Markets through environmental taxation will reduce the income of Southern farmers. But the question must be: who benefits from this trade? Is it poor, small farmers? The workers in the tomatoes production system in Morocco for instance are exploited and abused. That's why the products are so competitive. If these tomatoes have to be taxed, it should be because of the inhuman treatment of workers.

2. The article (and many others like it) addresses mainly fruits and vegetables. In Southern countries, these account for a small share of the total food bill. Stables, canned foods, prepared foods, staples such as wheat and rice, and cooking oil constitute the main components of the food bill. In Lebanon for instance, we are self sufficient in fruits and vegetables, but we import almost everything else, 80% of our food needs. These are not luxury, seasonal items. An environmental tax on these imports may have dramatic impacts on the lives of the poor.

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