Sunday, October 30, 2005

French play food securirty card

Peter Mandelson is caught between a rock and a hard place in trying to reach agreement in the Doha Round agricultural trade negotiations. On the one hand, he has to move towards the negotiating demands of the US (and the G-20). On the other, he has to avoid annoying France so much that it derails the whole negotiation and hence the Doha Round. The EU has now made a new set of concessions, but they may be too little for the US and too much for France.

France has wheeled out their finance minister, Thierry Breton, to defend the CAP in an interview in the Financial Times. This is a smart move as he is an avowed moderniser who formed his own software company in 1981, before running a science park and then taking charge of high tech groups Bull, Thompson and France Telecom.

But he insists that the CAP is essential for Europe's future and must not be sacrificed at the altar of the WTO. He challenges Tony Blair's description of the CAP as 'spending of the past', describing it as a modern, forward-looking policy, essential for safeguarding the security of Europe's food chain.

He claims that Europe has developed one of the best - and safest - agricultural systems in the world. 'There is no magic here: we have decided to put our money together to build this infrastructure.' He argues that anyone who thinks agriculture is a market like any other is 'old-fashioned', as they ignore growing risks to food security.

He seems to think that the growing world population poses a problem in terms of producing enough food, although this is partly a question of what limits are placed on the introduction of new technology. It is also the case that in the west people are consuming more food than is good for their health or at least food of the wrong kind.

It is the case that agricultural markets have their own special features ('cobweb cycles' etc.) and this is why one does need some stabilisation mechanisms, although these might be provided more efficiently by state guaranteed insurance arrangements rather than by subsidies.

Breton argues that we must protect food security 'at all costs' otherwise 'we will have new food catastrophes, or even pandemics.' The link between averting avian flu and subsidising marginal farmers is quite a tenuous one. In the UK, people have tried to use the threat of terrorism to wave the food security card, but have never been able to demonstrate exactly what the threat to the food chain is.

If subsidies were removed overnight, many European farmers would go out of business to the extent that world food prices would rise. There is a case for replacing subsidies by some kind of bond scheme with a finite life.

However, there is a case for providing some help for farmers for the positive externalities they provide (such as cherished landscapes), while there is a rural development case for providing help to remoter regions (which is not to say that depopulation is necessarily always a bad thing).

What is difficult to justify is spending nearly half the European budget and over €40 billions a year on the CAP and rural development. The opportunity cost is considerable at a time when Europe faces major challenges in world markets and needs more spending on research and development and innovation.

The French insistence on defending the CAP may not only derail the Doha negotiations, it may even eventually place the whole European project - or least its viability - in jeopardy.Any source

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Suit Brought against WGA

Writer-director William Richert has sued the Writers Guild of America West in Los Angeles Superior Court over its practice of collecting foreign levies for writers who aren't WGA members. Richert claims that the WGA has been accepting foreign collections in 1991 on monies due copyright holders such as taxes on video rentals and purchases of blank videocassettes.

The suit alleges that the WGA has no authority to collect the funds for non-members, hasn't communicated that information to the affected writers and hasn't paid them.

Richert is seeking class-action status for the suit. WGA West president Daniel Petrie Jr. told Daily Variety that the guild's authority to collect the funds for non-members stems from the initial agreements it struck in the late 1980s with the collection agencies.

According to Daily Variety, the WGA currently has $19 million in foreign levies in its accounts and another $4 million of undeliverable funds from the levies.

Hampton’s Film Festival Award Winner

Congratulations to our clients’ producers Jon Stern and Ben Odell and writer/director Stefan C. Shafer whose film, Confess, premiered at the Hampton’s Film Festival in New York October 21. Confess won the Zicherman Family Foundation Award for Best Screenplay.

Risky Business Seminar at UCLA Oct. 29-30

Mark will present his "Risky Business: Financing & Distributing Independent Films" seminar at at UCLA on Oct. 29-30. Those who attend this comprehensive two-day seminar will learn how independent films are financed and distributed. Topics include organizing your company, raising financing via pre-sales, debt and limited partnerships, negotiating tactics, principal terms of the acquisition/distribution agreement, cross-collateralization and creative accounting. Particular attention is paid to how producers and filmmakers can protect their interests by watering down warranties, getting added to the E& O policy, using lab access letter to retain possession of the negative, and utilizing termination and arbitration clauses.

Women in Film Summit October 29- November 1.

Women in Film & Television International Summit October 29 to November 1, 2005.
Mark will speak at the 9 AM panel on Intellectual Property and Copyright issues at WIF Summit. Women In Film Los Angeles will host the 2005 The Summit provides a forum for filmmakers from all over the world to network, greet old friends and forge new relationships. There will be four days of panels, lunches, cocktail parties, screenings and special events with all activities being held at the Park Hyatt Hotel on Avenue of the Stars in Century City.

Women In Film & Television International (WIFTI) is a global network comprised of some 36 Women In Film Chapters worldwide and over 10,000 members dedicated to advancing professional development and achievement for women working in all areas of film, video, and other screen based media.

Additional info at: source

Sunday, October 23, 2005


SHEARSMAN MAGAZINE, Issue 65 & 66. ed. Tony Frazer. Amazing mag from the UK which brings much needed attention to anglophone poets worldwide. Poetry by Harry Guest, Louis Armand, Elizabeth Treadwell, Arlene Ang, D.S. Marriot, Scott Thurston, Simon Perril, Chris Brown sword, Isobel Armstrong, Craig Watson, David Berridge, James Bell, Edward Mycue, Anna Moschovakis, Anamaria Crowe Serrano, Chris McCabe, Carrie Etter, Rochelle Ratner, Carolyn van Langenberg, Maurice Scully, Rob Stanton. Translations of Yves Bonnefoy by Peter Boyle, Jose Kozer by Mark Weiss, Cesar Vallejo by Michael SMith & Valentino Gianuzzi, Ilhan Berk by George Messo, and Boris Poplavsky.

THE POKER, Issue 6. ed. Daniel Bouchard. As always, wonderful. Particularly delightful to read Moxley's discussion of lyric poetry. Poetry by Jackson Mac Low, Joe Elliot, Rodney Koeneke, Deborah Meadows, Rodrigo Toscano, Nancy Kuhl, Fitz-Greene Halleck, Alan Bernheimer, Douglas Rothschild, Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Lee Ann Brown, Daniel Bouchard, Baudelaire, Rae Armantrout, Bill Luoma & John Latta. Translation by Kieth Waldrop. Prose by Mitch Highfill, Benjamin Friedlander, Jennifer Moxley and Steve Evans.

CHICAGO REVIEW, 50: 2/3/4. ed. Eirik Steinhoff. The issue contains essays on Zukofsky by Mark Scroggins ad David Wray, a selection from Zukofsky's correspondence, & Elsa Dorfman's portraits of Zukofsky. Paul Zukofsky discusses the marginalia found in his fathers library as perhaps the last frontier of Zukofsky scholarship. Other work includes poems by Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Theodore Enslin, Tom Pickard, and others, as well as essays & reviews by Daniel Bouchard, Michael Heler, Thomas Fink, Devin Johnston and others. go to their website! Its all there.

Any source

Saturday, October 22, 2005


If Andrew Schelling were to do nothing but write and publish notebooks I would be more than satisfied. The notebooks are wonderful, processual journeys which emerge incrementally as the author moves through experience, through the day to day. Two Elk follows much the same loose form as his earlier notebook THE ROAD TO OCOSINGO, moving freely between fragmented bits of prose, verse, letters, recorded dreams, quotes & observations. Schelling himself explains lucidly in his preface:

During autumn of 2003 I kept a high country journal which I eventually named Two Elk after the creek that lies in an adjacent drainage to Vail ski resort's Category III expansion. My project in the notebooks was to document excursions into Colorado's high altitude terrain. These formidable peaks & high valleys--with their low oxygen, scant moisture, intense sunlight, scouring winds, & tough ice--have been my kindest, toughest, & sturdiest teachers the fourteen years I've lived among them. Hence the notebook entries became songs, prayers, and poems of devotion.

Schelling's grasp on the craggy, rugged Colorado wilderness around him is shaped by an impressive knowledge of world literatures, a keen awareness of his position in relation to the totality of the surrounding world. Vedic goddesses, T'ang poets, Scotch sailors & an assortment of others inhabit & inform Schelling's perception of time & space from his point of reference in the foothills of the Colorado Rockies.

At the very core of the work, however, is a deeply-seated understanding of the environment at large, the Earth, as a transient & ecologically delicate thing which must be cherished and preserved. In determining a source of heat for he & his daughter Althea, his decision is ecologically informed:

Harvest days. The gathering of the year. The stacking of fruit & firewood. This year I will take heat only from wood, coal-bed methane extraction being such a disaster. The buried seams crack under pressure, the retort like an earthquake, and noxious gas enters the water table.

Just as the earth is delicate, the same holds true for the human body. It is the transience and fragility of life which we are most aware of in times of adversity, in the cold, & Schelling believes it is this which lies at the center of all things human, of love & of the work which emerges from love:

Late autumn is for melancholy. A fragrance of wet leaf mould stirred with fermenting apples. I have a body that evolved in the Pleistocene & want to burrow under the covers. This is the season for love.
Any source


Fred Smith came of age and into poetry in the ideologically land-locked Midwest, a region where the New Critics ruled literature departments with an unforgiving iron fist. While their hold appeared to be slipping in literature departments along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts during the fifties, their idea of poetry and literature remained fairly well-preserved in the mid-west, not unlike a can of pickled tomatoes. Having attended the University of Minnesota in the fifties, Smith is able to count Allen Tate, a poet central to the New Criticism, among his past instructors. Smith, however, doesn't reject the New Criticism but seems to in fact deeply admire it. He doesn't reject it; he responds to it. His recently published work reveals this peculiar dialectical relationship.

Smith was the last in a long line of distinguished poets to be published by Black Sparrow Press before it folded, before the Bukowski backlist was handed over to Harper Collins and the rest went to David Godine for a smooth single American dollar bill. Smith was 68 years old when his first collection of poems, Rollerdrome, was published. Given the current literary vogue, Smith engages a narrative, confessional form most poets and critics would immediately dismiss, yet he does this in response partly to High Modernism and the New Criticism which appears to have dominated his early intellectual life. The tone of the work is flat and dry, a slow & contemplative Midwestern drawl not unlike that of Twain or, in the rarest of times, even Eliot.

ROLLERDROME, as a collection, is divided up into five distinct sections: Children, Parents and Other Observations; Seven Japanese Portraits; Rollerdrome and the Millionaire; Early Poems; and Robert's Book. A continuation of this last section, Robert's Book, was published earlier this year and appears to be an ongoing work-in-progress, an addendum of sorts to the last section of Rollerdrome.

The first section--Children, Parents and Other Observations--is a string of loosely related narrative poems which, as a whole, come together to shape a distinctly dysfunctional American community, a sexually repressed Peyton Place of sorts where sexual expression becomes manifest in horribly destructive ways as a result of conventional mores. These poems come together in much the same way as the stories within the Canterbury Tales or Boccaccio's Decameron. The dry humor and flat tone of each poem encourages shoulder-shrugging laughter where despair and an awareness of powerlessness might be:

A color photograph taken
at the time of Aunt Doll's visit
shows her and grandmother and their
brothers Fred and Emmett standing
in front of grandmother's house.
A flaw in the negative makes it
look like a hole is burning in
Uncle Emmett's pants where his cock
ought to be. He served two years
in Kansas for messing around
with a teenage prostitute, and got
mercury shots for his syphilis.
The only male in our family
convicted of being a man.

Much of Smith's writing works toward demystification, toward lateralizing, materializing, establishing a level playing field. "Card Reading," a poem which appears at the center of the section title "Rollerdrome and the Millionaire," seems, in several ways, to be a response to Eliot, a poet whose work Smith had no choice but to become intimately familiar with. Where Eliot's "Madame Sosostris" and her reading of the tarot in "The Wasteland" carries tremendous allegorical and prophetic luggage, Smith's Madame Adelaide is much more transparent, much more a woman simply earning a living, a deluded woman who believes:

… God wouldn't give
me this gift if He hadn't meant
me to support myself by it.
Many times I've been hungry in
a cold room without any wood
for the stove when a stranger
seeking the truth about himself
has suddenly appeared at my
door and crossed my palm with silver.

Compare this with Eliot:

Madame Sosostris, famous clairvoyante,
Had a bad cold, nevertheless
Is known to be the wisest woman in Europe,
With a wicked pack of cards…

The tone is much the same. Just as the mid-western drawl is present in Smith, it emerges in Eliot every now & again. Rather than taking on a larger, allegorical meaning which locates itself interdependently in relation to the rest of the larger work as Eliot's Madame Sosostris does, Madame Adelaide is, for Smith, simply one among many characters. Madame Adelaide is not romanticized or mystified, her reading isn't prophetic--it simply is, as is a carnival or any number of other things people, in their fear of the world & the future, might come to superstitiously cling to & depend upon. The animated dialogue between the narrator and Madame Adelaide moves swiftly toward demystification when the narrator asks, "Do you think I can get out of my present situation?"

"I only read the cards. I don't
answer specific questions. It
wouldn't be ethical for me
to give personal advice."

"Then your cards aren't much help.
Do you believe in the cards?"

This flat, pessimistic monotone characterizes the whole of Smith's narrative approach. When we encounter licentious preachers, desperate hustlers on Polk Street, a wildly drunk & aged woman, soldiers returning from war and other oddballs, the flat narrative tone tells us that we ought not be surprised, we ought to understand that the sexually repressed, highly conservative fifties and sixties inadvertently created these curious people, these painfully wonderful people. We ought to shrug our shoulders and utter with a wry sense of irony, "It figures." Most importantly, Smith encourages us to take our place alongside these oddballs, to admit to ourselves that we not only live among them, we are them.
Any source

Friday, October 21, 2005


Pickard is a poet of grit & force, like the grinding of gears to the ear or sandpaper across the eyeballs. His force doesn’t come from breaking with normative syntactic structures or disrupting and manipulating the semantic. It comes from an aggressive cynicism traditionally expressed through popular and folk forms—the ballad, the sharp satiric verse, the bawdy limerick, the dainty innocent rhyme which simultaneously shrugs off and also underscores the despairing gravity of its content. Pickard returns to these forms, willfully choosing to eschew experimentation in favor of exploring more culturally entrenched forms specific to the north of England.

The first poem in his latest collection, The Dark Months of May, kicks off with a line which courses through the work as a structural thread: "hung-over." As the collection moves the sense becomes one of falling in & out of consciousness, waking up the morning after & struggling to recollect the evening before. The recollection comes slow. Fragmented images and moments are reassembled out of sequence, their edges marked by mist and curious vagaries punctuated with sharp wry wit &, at times, piercing bitterness not unlike that of an increasingly cynical Catullus. Take the following:

a siskin’s contented mew
breezes from the gorse
martins swarm and skim

the sun slips under
the brim of my hat

I thought this place
to trace the story of a story

the river spoke and you
still stink of spring

Pickard’s brand of bitterness, however, is often much more forceful, more blunt. It is the same naked street-level cynicism which, not surprisingly, emerges often in Bunting and Pound:

cold Atlantic blasts
make warmer company that you
these last few months

Here the oppositional rage which characterizes most of Pickard’s work, especially early work like the 1971 novella Guttersnipe, are woven deeply into the texture of the verse. Pickard explores roguish elements culturally specific to Northern England in consciously selected populist forms. For Pickard the written "is a trail of evidence/ tailor-made for trial." The trail of evidence leads back temporally through rime & song, back to earlier popular traditions and finds its ultimate expression at the end of the collection through the story of James Allan delivered within the framework of a ballad.

Allan, we’re told, "was an eighteenth century gypsy musician who lived in the English-Scottish borders and died in Durham jail where he was serving a life sentence for stealing a horse at the age of seventy. His reputation as a great musician was matched by his reputation as an outlaw…."

Passages from "The Ballad of Jamie Allen" come after a stretch of short poems and then a series of mixed prose and verse pieces titled "Fragments from an Archeological Dig in Gallowate." The latter marks the cumulative stratification of cultural remains found on an archeological dig, the site flanked on all sides by modernity—office buildings and a bus station. The dig here points toward development and cultural accumulation, pointing toward a contemporary culture that still contains traces of its medieval and Victorian past. This, of course, leads into the closing passages from "The Ballad of Jamie Allen."

The passages from the ballad are part of a larger work, a libretto Pickard is currently working on for composer John Harle. Clearly Pickard finds something contemporary in both the ballad form and the story itself. Like Pickard, Allen is a musician and rogue consciously living in the border lands, on the outskirts of stifling conventional mores. The two of them, Pickard and Allen, are no different than the hawthorn discussed in the work, a hawthorn which has "set its roots against the wind/ the worrying wind that’s blowing." But the tale begins with Allen’s end. The ballad begins with an image of Allen in jail at the age of seventy, from which point the tale reaches back in order to discuss Allen’s life, just as Pickard has reached back to explore song itself. As Pickard’s ballad develops further and more of it is published we may find that it is Allen’s commitment to music, to song, which has shoved him to the margins of civilization, compelled him to support his unconventional life by unconventional means. This is certainly the case for Pickard & his writing, which never attempts to pull any punches, consistently makes this known.
Any source

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Half speed ahead in Doha Round

It's half speed ahead in the Doha Round agricultural trade negotiations after the US and EU tabled new offers, following by a compromise paper by the G-20 which was in part an attempt to reconcile their internal differences.

The US put the EU on the spot with a new offer on domestic subsidies which was launched with a fanfare with a Financial Times article by US Trade Representative Rob Portman. The offer was not quite as generous as it seemed as it would allow the controversial counter cyclical payments initiated by the US in the 2002 Farm Act to continue, but their size would be limited to a maximum $5 billion a year, compared with $7.6 billion at the moment.

This was enough to alarm Senator Saxby Chambliss, chairman of the US Senate's agriculture committee who sent a letter to US ag secretary Mike Johanns telling him not to sell out the store and in particular to do nothing that would lower the level of farm spending in the US. The Bush Administration would like nothing more than to cut the level of farm spending as one means of dealing with the huge US budget deficit.

The EU has also had its internal problems with France, backed by thirteen other member states, trying to limit the room for manoeuvre of trade commissioner Peter Mandelson to an extent that would have probably derailed the Hong Kong ministerial. However, the French were beaten back at an emergency meeting of the Council of foreign ministers, in itself an unusual event. However, the French remain hot under the collar under the issue and will no doubt cause more trouble as they did in the Uruguay Round.

The real sticking point remains tariffs with the EU calling for a maximum 50 per cent cut on the highest tariffs compared with a 90 per cent figure advocated by the US. As Agra Europe has commented, a 90 per cent cut would mean that the EU butter intervention price would have to be slashed by 25 per cent which would be a heavy blow for Europe's troubled dairy industry. However, the US points out that the current EU offer would lead to an average cut in European farm tariffs of 24.5 per cent, less than the 36 per cent average agreed in the Uruguay Round.

The US wants 'sensitive' products to be limited to 1 per cent of tariff lines, with the EU asking for up to 8 per cent. This would offer protection for around 160 EU tariff lines. Remember, for 'sensitive' read 'politically sensitive'.

The real horse trading is beginning, but there is still a long way to go before agreement is reached.Any source

Monday, October 17, 2005

Non-GM costs to rise, claims report

European food producers will face significantly higher costs over the next three years if staunch opposition to using GM ingredients continues, a study commissioned by Agricultural Biotechnology Europe (who have a particular stance) suggests. Up to now the cost of Europe's anti-GM stance has been minimal as the greater cost of producing non-GM ingredients has been pushed down the supply chain.

This will change, it is claimed, as the availability of guaranteed non-GM ingredients declines and the premium on non-GM supplies rises. A particular problem is the availability of non-GM soyabeans. Soyabeans are used in producing a wide range of processed foods (even biscuits) and over half the soyabeans planted across the globe are now GM. Brazil, the primary supplier of non-GM soya products to the EU, has now formally approved the planting of transgenic soyabean seeds (although they were already grown illegally) so the percentage is likely to grow.

The existing differential between GM and non-GM could double in the next one to three years. For example, producers of broiler feed are likely to find that the premium over transgenic varieties for soya meal and soya oil will rise from between 10 per cent and 13 per cent to as much as 25 per cent. Margarine producers, 70 per cent of whom currently support non-GM policies, would see a rise of 16 per cent over three years or €85m annually.

There is some dispute about whether GM crops are as cheap to produce as their supporters claim, so these figures may be exaggerated. Retailers and processors face a dilemma as consumers are resistant to GM ingredients but also resistant to price rises.

GM-free zone ruled illegal

The European Court of First Instance has ruled that Upper Austria is not allowed to declare itself a 'non-genetically modified' zone. The ban had been originally rejected by the Commission on the grounds that there was no scientific evidence to support it. This is the first time that the Court has ruled on a general regional prohibition of GM crops although there are many other areas in Europe that proclaim themselves to be GM free. The Commission stated that the decision was a clear pronouncement that the free movement of goods within the EU had to be respected, but Upper Austria is likely to fight on.

WTO panel ruling delayed

The WTO dispute panel ruling on the EU's alleged moratorium for new genetically modified products has been put off until after the WTO's Hong Kong ministerial in December. The cover story is scheduling reasons, but it is clearly an attempt to prevent this conflict spilling over into already difficult negotiations.Any source

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Confess to premiere at the Hampton's Festival

Congratulations to our clients, director Stefan Schaefer, and producers Jonathan Stern and Benjamin Odell.

Their film, CONFESS, will premiere as part of the narrative competition at the Hamptons International Film Festival.

CONFESS charts the exploits of disillusioned ex-hacker Terell Lessor (Eugene Byrd). Employing strategically placed spy-cams, he captures compromising footage of those who slighted him in the past, broadcasting edits via the internet. Recognizing the power of this model, and working in tandem with accomplice Olivia (Ali Larter), he targets CEO's, politicians, and members of the power elite. Soon Terell's every action is front-page news, law enforcement has labeled him a new breed of terrorist, and the movement he spawned is spiraling out of control.

CONFESS will be screening at:

1) 9:00 p.m. on Friday, October 21, 2005 at the UA 4 Theater in East Hampton.

2) 1:00 p.m. on Saturday, October 22, 2005 at the UA 6 Theater in East Hampton.

3) 7:00 p.m. on Saturday, October 22, 2005 at the Panasonic VIP screening room at the South Hampton Inn.

For more information click on


CRAZY LOVE will premier at ArcLight Cinemas at 6360 West Sunset Boulevard at the Hollywood Film festival on October 22, 2005, at 2 p.m. (Parking entrance on Ivar).

Tickets for CRAZY LOVE are now available through the ArcLight web site.


Mark Litwak's book "Dealmaking in the Film and Television Industry, 2nd Edition" has been republished in Korea by Easy Books.

Dealmaking is the first self-defense book for everyone working in the film and television industry, addressing a general, non-attorney readership, it is a fascinating, highly accessible and practical guide to current entertainment law peculiarities and "creative" practices. Armed with this book, filmmakers can save themselves thousands of dollars in legal fees as they navigate the entertainment business's shark-infested waters. Whether you are a professional or wannabe producer, writer, director, or actor, this book can help you make the most of your business dealings while steering you clear of contractual traps. The second edition of this popular book contains hundreds of updates and revisions of the first edition and includes two new chapters: Legal Remedies and Retaining Attorneys, Agents, and Managers.Any source

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Back to the old days in Germany?

Once upon a time the typical German agriculture minister was a member of the CSU from Bavaria. Of course, sometimes the minister came from another Land and was a member of the FPD or the CDU. But wherever they came from, the ministers were male, had close ties to the agriculture industry and evidently enjoyed good food and beer. Those from Bavaria were particularly attuned to the concerns of the relatively small-scale, often part-time and potentially marginal farmers of this distinctive southern and Catholic part of Germany.

All this was shaken up an urban German Green woman, Renate Kunast, took over a changed farm portfolio that paid greater attention to food safety, food quality and consumer concerns. Organic farming was viewed with particular favour. Whether she made as great a difference as was initially hoped (or feared) remains an open question. It does seem, however, that the changed portfolio title with its emphasis on consumer affairs will be kept.

Now the CSU is back in the agriculture portfolio in Angela Merkel's Grand Coalition. Ministerial responsibilities have not yet been finalised, but the man tipped by the media to be Germany's new farm minister is the CDU/CSU's former deputy leader, Horst Seehofer.

German agricultural wire service Agrimanager describes Seehofer as a 'controversial health expert,' who has previously been responsible for agricultural matters in his party, but 'has not yet gained real standing in this sector'.

In other words, the former health minister looks like a bit of a wild card at first sight, someone with a base in his party, but not necessarily linked into the traditional farm policy networks. So it may not be back to business as usual.

Our Munich correspondent comments, 'You are right to suggest that Seehofer is not the traditional CSU guy. He resigned from his role as deputy leader of the CDU/CSU in Parliament in 2004 because he disagreed with the party's policy, in other words he resigned on the basis of his convictions.'

'What would be far more worrying from my perspective would be alternative being discussed at the moment, Michael Glos, who is known not least for calling Fischer and Trittin "eco-stalinists"'. And he is very traditional.'Any source

Could Parliament block sugar reform?

Because there is no co-decision on CAP 'guarantee' expenditure matters, something that would have been tackled by the failed EU treaty, the role of the European Parliament in farm reform is usually relatively limited compared to other areas of EU policy.

However, the Parliament may be in a position to block progress on the sugar reform, enabling it to extract further concessions from the Commission. The Council cannot legally adopt CAP legislation until the MEPs have delivered an opinion on the proposal - but there is no obligation to take their views into account. One mechanism that the Parliament does have to protest over proposals it opposes is to delay delivery of the necessary opinion, or to threaten not to deliver it all.

Commissioner Fischer Boel has responded to the Commission's rapporteur on the sugar reform dossier, Jean-Claude Fruteau. She has ruled out one main demand, a compensation level to sugar beet farmers increased from 60% to 80%. Her view is that it is in line with what has been offered in other reformed sectors and any more would be too generous.

She was, however, prepared to take a look again at the proposed sugar restructuring fund which Fruteau described as ungenerous. She also tried to reassure MEPs that the lower internal EU price for sugar would give third countries less incentive to engage in fraud through so-called triangular imports. This is where countries re-export imported sugar claiming that it is their own produce. She stated that if a particular country failed to observe the rules, or if sugar imports were causing serious disturbance to the EU market (shades of the recent Mandelson intervention on Chinese textiles), the EU reserved the right to withdraw tariff preferences.

Fischer Boel and the UK presidency stress that a decision on sugar reform is needed in possible, both to help farmers make their planting plans for next year and also to prevent a row about sugar derailing the agricultural talks at the Hong Kong WTO ministerial in December.Any source

Monday, October 10, 2005

Turkey and the CAP

Turkish accession to the European Union would pose formidable problems for the CAP. These arise from the very large numbers of people employed on the land in Turkey, often engaged in very low value added forms of agriculture. 30 per cent of the population in Turkey is engaged in agriculture compared with only 5 per cent in the EU-25. If Turkey was to join the EU today it would more than double the agricultural population, adding 7.2 million people to the current 6.9 million.

Agriculture has an 11.5 per cent share of GDP in Turkey, compared with 1.9 per cent in the EU-15. Some 40 per cent of the population live in rural areas. Agricultural exports are 11.2 per cent of total exports compared with 3.9 per cent in the EU-15. Labour productivity in agriculture is low. Gross Value Added per person is agriculture is one-eighth of the average EU-15 level. Average income per employed household member in Turkish agriculture is less than 40 per cent of the level for non-agricultural workers.

Agriculture does, however, have a dual structure with commercial farms and export-oriented chains for individual products co-existing with subsistence or semi-subsistence farming. The average farm size is six hectares compared to the EU average of 13 hectares. In terms of value, fruit, vegetables and cereals are the most important farm products. Fruit and vegetable production alone accounts for 43 per cent of total output, compared with only 15 per cent in the EU. They also represent over half of Turkey’s agricultural exports. The livestock sector is much less competitive and badly in need of structural modernisation. The country already ranks as Europe’s largest fruit grower, behind Italy and Spain. Turkey occupies a strong position in relation to individual speciality crops. It is the second largest producer of hazelnuts in the world and is a competitive producer of peas, lentils and olive oil.

There are major animal health problems in Turkey. In the veterinary area, major efforts would have to be made to improve conditions and in particular controls on the eastern border. Some highly infectious animal diseases that have virtually disappeared in western and northern Europe remain endemic in Turkey. For example, outbreaks of foot and mouth disease have occurred in virtually every year since 1996. Turkey is also prone to outbreaks of anthrax and brucellosis. Food hygiene standards are poor.

Turkey lacks an adequate infrastructure of trained staff to implement the various rules and regulations that accompany CAP membership, although it is the case that farm policies are even more interventionist than those of the CAP. Yet levels of support are lower with a PSE in Turkey of 26 per cent compared with 37 per cent in the EU-15.

Rural development policy in Turkey is focused on large-scale investments in areas such as irrigation. Major dam projects are being undertaken in south-east Anatolia and should increase the farmland area benefiting from irrigation facilities by some twenty per cent. Structural policy would be a new concept for Turkey, however.

Agricultural policy has often been driven by vote seeking in rural areas and farmers’ organisations have been weakly developed. Nevertheless, the Agriculture Reform Implementation Project (ARIP) of 2001-5 represents a new direction in agricultural policy and aims to bring Turkey more in line with the EU. Price support has been reduced, subsidies have been removed and a direct income support for farmers similar to that now used in the EU has been introduced. This is not, however, fully decoupled as it is based on flat-rate payments per hectare, capped at 50 hectares. Most products, however, still enjoy high levels of trade protection, reflected in a considerable agricultural trade surplus. Attempts to reform the state-controlled Agricultural Sales Co-operatives have made little progress.

Calculations of the impact on the EU budget of Turkish membership vary according to the basis for the estimates made. Most estimates are based on the assumption of Turkish membership by 2015 which many analysts regard as unrealistically early. Assumptions also have to be made about the progress on further CAP reform by 2015.

The Commission’s own figure estimates the cost to the agriculture budget in 2015 at 2004 prices would be around €11.3bn, a larger sum than that taken up by the ten new entrants to the EU in 2004. Economists at Wageningen Univeristy have come up with a lower estimate of €5.2bn, made up of €3.6bn for market measures and direct aid and €1.6bn for rural development expenditure. However, this depends on a number of assumptions that include reform of the EU sugar regime, abolition of EU export refunds and a 20 per cent appreciation of the Turkish lira. There would also need to be 2 per cent annual decreases in EU income transfers from 2006 and further WTO tariff cuts after the completion of the Doha Round. Agra Europe estimates that the accession of Turkey and Croatia would add around €60 billion at the end of the next budgetary perspectives period or an estimated 19 per cent addition to an estimated 2013 expenditure level of €51.2bn for the EU-27, pushing the CAP spending total to around €60 bilion. In broad terms it seems realistic to expect an increase of over 20 per cent in the current CAP budget following Turkish membership.

Turkish membership would lock the EU into a long-term commitment to transferring resources to a largely backward agrarian economy. Indeed, in the short run, the shock of competition with the EU would exacerbate pre-existing problems of poverty.
Modernisation through skill transfer would be limited by the fact that 18 per cent of the agricultural workforce is illiterate. If employment in farming was to be reduced to a level nearer to its share of national output, a working paper by the Centre for European Reform estimates that it would be necessary to take eight million families out of agriculture.

There is a real danger that Turkish membership would embed a CAP dominated by redistributive policies that maintain inefficient forms of agricultural production. Admittedly, the prospect of Turkish membership could provide a new reform stimulus, but such pressures tend to have uneven effects.

Turkish accession is largely driven by 'big picture' political considerations, particularly for the UK, with the question of the CAP being left to negotiations with the hope that it will be all right on accession night. However, failure to arrive at a satisfactory deal would certainly delay entry and might halt it altogether given the lack of enthusiasm among many European states.Any source

Sunday, October 9, 2005

Sugar row could hit WTO talks

The decision by the EU to dump nearly two million tonnes of sugar on the world market (technically 'declassification' of quota sugar) despite a WTO ruling that such sales were illegal could have an impact on the Doha Round trade talks.

A statement by Brazil said (in rather convoluted syntax): 'It is unavoidable to note the negative signal the EC sends to WTO negotiators less than three months before the ministerial conference in Hong Kong by taking this decision on declassification. Hardly any of us could find a more deleterious way to express the gap between words and deeds.' The declassification is up to ten times as big as in previous years and the Brazilians claim that it could push the world price down by six per cent. The problem the Commission faces is that there are already nearly a million tonnes of surplus sugar stored across Europe at the Commission's expense.

The EU claims that since no deadline has yet been set to bring its sugar regime in compliance with the WTO ruling, it can get rid of its surplus in the meantime. An abitrator has been appointed to determine a reasonable length of time for the EU to comply and is due to report by late October. The delay between ruling and implementation means that complainats Brazil, Thailand and Australia are unlikely to be able to obtain legal redress against the EU for its decision to offload surplus sugar.

If the arbitrator does side with the complainants, this will be the first time that a major WTO member has failed to respect its commitments (in terms of export subsidies). Will the WTO be able to effectively discipline one of its most powerful members?

One lump or two? The state of the reform debate

There are signs of an emerging consensus. Member states that are hard hit such as Hungary, Ireland and Italy continue to complain about their fate, but really they are following the traditional EU tactic of getting some side payments in return for their agreement.

As Agra Europe recently commented, the Commission faces the unenviable task of negotiating 'the downsizing of a hugely bloated EU sugar market while somehow keeping on the right side of WTO law and avoiding causing too many bankruptcies among sugar producers and refiners in Europe and around the world ... Having created a monstrous regime which flew in the face of all principles of economic rationality, its creators knew all too well that the monster would bite back if anyone tried to interfere with it.'

The Commission suggested at a recent meeting of the Special Committee on Agriculture that new member states could receive a Separate Sugar Payment (SSP) as compensation for price cuts. The argument made for this payment is that farmers there have no track record of entitlements before accession in 2004. Latvia and Lithuania have been particularly concerned that the compensation for beet growers in the sugar proposal could go to landowners rather than the beet farmers.

Parliament's draft report unhelpful

The rapporteur on the sugar reform dossier in the European Parliament (Jean-Claude Fruteau) has come up with an unhelpful set of proposals in his draft report. They would both undermine the reform and penalise developing countries as well as hitting the EU budget.

The report suggests that the reduction in the reference price for sugar should be 25 per cent over three years not 39 per cent over two years as the Commission has proposed. It is difficult to see how such a scaled down reduction could permit the EU to meet its WTO commitments.

The report also suggests that the Commission should offer 80 per cent compensation for income losses incurred by EU sugar beet growers, a one third increase in the 60 per cent currently on the table. The idea that farmers in the new member states could receive their compensation on a per hectare basis is, however, compatible with the Commission's recent proposal discussed above and one wonders if a version of it might be used in the EU-15.

The report also proposes delaying the full implementation of the Everything But Arms agreement for six years until 2015. Imports of sugar from these developing countries could be controlled through a transitional period. Quotas would remain in place until 2015 but import duties would be gradually decreased. A so-called 'safeguard' clause would limit net exports by EBA countries to the difference between the sugar produced and the consumption level of each country.

The sugar lobby was earlier successful in delaying EBA implementation until 2009. Any further delay would be opposed by Global South groups like Oxfam.Any source

Thursday, October 6, 2005

Grain mountain fears grow

The grain sector is the EU commodity regime where reform is supposed to have been effective, bringing EU prices close to world levels. Why, then, are the amounts of grain in intervention stores growing? This trend reminds us of the susceptibility of the CAP to euro-dollar exchange rates and the potential for increasing output in the new member states of Eastern Europe.

Although some parts of the EU were badly hit by severe midsummer droughts, seen by some as both a symptom of and a contributor to global warming, this year's harvest is well above the average level for the past five years, even if it is 10 per cent down on last year's record. Internationally, harvests have been good and prices have suffered as a result.

Against the background of the Doha Round trade talks, and already under criticism for releasing sugar on to the world market, the EU is likely to be careful about subsidised exports. This means that the grain mountain will start to grow again. If the dollar appreciates, of course, some of the pressure could be eased as this would automatically move the world price of grain closer to the EU level, but this doesn't seem too likely. But there are longer term factors at work.

The Commission sets a lot of store by the reimposition of compulsory ten per cent set aside in 2004, but farmers simply farm the remaining area more intensively, often setting aside the least desirable land (as happens on the farm nearest to me).

However, the larger problem is the prospect of increases in yield in Eastern Europe as productivity improves. Severe weather conditions in the main sowing and growing periods hit production by around ten per cent in the new member states this year.

The scope for gains in productivity is shown by the fact that wheat yields in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia are currently around 3.8 tonnes/hectare, only just over half the EU-15 figure of 7.3 tonnes a hectare. In the worst case scenario, intervention stocks could be 20 million tonnes in 2010 rather than the 3 million tonnes anticipated by the Commission. Reform of the grain regime could come back on the agenda.Any source

Swiss to reform farm support

Switzerland is one of just five countries in the world with Producer Subsidy Equivalents calculated by the OECD at over the 60 per cent level. But now the Swiss Government has set out measures to make sharp cuts in support and liberalise markets. The government is planning to make significant expenditure cuts in a number of product sectors, abolish export subsidies, reduce tariffs on feed grain and switch from market support to direct aid payments, thus following the model of the EU.

The leader of the Swiss Farmers' Union, Jacques Bourgeois [sic] complained, 'Farms will face average income reductions of 20 per cent. This is totally unreasonable as farm incomes are already more than 40 per cent below those in other branches of industry.' However, the government is determined to promote the trend towards fewer, larger farms. One wonders about the future of those high alpine farms that so delight tourists to Switzerland.Any source

Tuesday, October 4, 2005

Elizabeth Taylor Wins Lawsuit

Elizabeth Taylor’s Van Gogh painting “Vue de l’Asile et de la Chapelle de Saint Remy” was the subject of a recent suit by the heirs of a prior owner seeking to recover the painting. Margarete Mauthner’s heirs sued Taylor in federal court, 41 years after she purchased the painting from Sotheby’s in 1963. Mauthner owned the painting from 1914 until 1939, when she fled Nazi Germany. Her painting was seized by the Nazis and ended up in Sotheby’s Auction House in London in 1963, which sold it to Taylor.

The heirs claimed that Sotheby’s gave Taylor inconsistent and conflicting information about the history of the picture, which should have alerted Taylor that the validity of the painting’s ownership was in question. This issue was never decided, however, because the Judge dismissed both legal theories the heirs brought forth. The first theory was based on traditional state law based claims for conversion and restitution methods California state law for regaining possession. These claims were barred by the statute of limitations with regards to recovering stolen property, which starts when the purchaser, in this case Taylor, takes possession of the property. She bought the painting in 1963, and therefore the deadline in California to file suit was 1966.

The second theory the heirs relied on was based on the the federal Holocaust Victims Redress Act, the Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act, and the “findings and declarations of the California legislature.” The Judge reasoned that none of these sources created a basis on which to sue. Courts are reluctant to create a new cause of action Congress has not explicitly created through legislative action. Here, the legislature intended the government to help victims recover their property under current laws.Any source

Monday, October 3, 2005

Ahern draws return fire

Irish prime minister Bertie Ahern set out his stall in the defence of the CAP in the Financial Times last week but drew return fire from two of Europe's leading agricultural economists.

The Irish prime minister claimed that the CAP objectives set out in the Treaty of Rome were 'still valid today', although some think that circumstances in Europe are rather different today.

He then used the oft resorted to argument that we have to give the 'radical' 2003 reforms a chance to work. 'Farmers, like other business people, need a reasonable degree of stability in the policy environment in which they operate.' Well, they have had decades of handouts from European taxpayers and no one has seriously suggested a Kiwi style overnight abolition of the CAP.

He then goes on to argue that we shouldn't display our hand before the Doha Round talks in Hong Kong, which is reasonable enough. He then gets out the food security card, claiming that 'Europe's food supplies could, once again, become vulnerable.' He has the good sense not to mention terrorists, but even if extremists did manage to get to sea and blow up one or two ships carrying food, the impact would be negligible on overall supply.

We come to the crux of his real concerns when he starts to talk about damage to Europe's rural fabric and one hears echoes of de Valera's famous 1940s speech about Irish maidens dancing at crossroads etc. There is a serious point here, but what is needed is a vigorous and well designed rural development policy.

Ahern gets himself into trouble with his claims that there is 'a broad comparability of support' between the EU and the US. The OECD's Stefan Tangermann delivered a magisterial rebuke in a letter to the pink 'un, stating 'some numbers quoted are not exact.' (Put less politely, they are wrong). The former Gottingen professor points out that in the US in 2003 farm support stood at 15 per cent of receipts compared with 36 per cent in the EU.

Tangermann is constrained by the rules of an international organisation, but Reading University's Alan Swinbank was blunter. He notes that Ahern fails to point out that the decoupled subsidies are 'linked to lamd, enriching the land owner, and that they are based on area farmed, chiefly benefiting larger businesses rather than small, marginal farms'.

Swinbank points out that the October 2002 European Council meeting suggested 'that a ceiling would be set on CAP expenditure, not that a spending entitlement would be established.' The nub of his case is that the CAP 'is an imposition on the EU taxpayer crowding out other policy initiatives and creating winners and losers among member states. Mr Ahern overlooks the economic (and political) costs that a failed CAP imposes on the EU. Resources could be better deploted in other activities (providing genuine environmental benefits, and development in rural areas, for example).

The call for further reform will not go away. But the UK does not have sufficient political support to push it forward, despite Tony Blair's recent comment that his big regret about all the reforms he had undertaken was that they had not been radical enough.Any source

Sunday, October 2, 2005

Mary Coughlan, Ireland's farm minister

At a time when Irish prime minister Bertie Ahern has been defending the CAP in the Financial Times and getting it large from Professors Swinbank and Tangermann in return, it's a good time to take a look at Ireland's farm minister, Mary Coughlan.

There was a time when you had to have three qualifications to be a farm minister: you had to be a farmer, or at least an employee of a farmers' organisation or agricultural bureaucracy; you had to be a man; and you had to be overweight, to demonstrate that you had played your part in reducing the CAP surplus.

Mary Coughlan does, admittedly, come from a very rural constituency, Donegal South West. She was elected to the Dail for Fianna Fail shortly after graduating in politics and sociology from University College, Dublin in 1987. This rapid rise may have been helped by the fact that her father was a politician. Married with two young children, she became a minister of state in 2001. But the move from minister of social and family affairs to replace the long-serving Joe Walsh as farm minister in 2004 was something of a surprise.

She clearly represents modern, successful Ireland, with a reputation as having a sharp mind and an affable personality. Unfortunately she is a defender of traditional CAP policies. She wants the EU to be cautious in the Doha Round negotiations and she is disappointed by the UK's call for further reform of the CAP. 'I think it's unfair. A commitment was given in 2002 that funding would be fixed for 10 years. Tony Blair must keep his promise.'

Ireland has generally been a staunch ally of France on CAP reform and the matter is of such importance to the Republic that it is the prime minister who has to be wheeled out to explain why further reform is inappropriate.Any source