A Euro-Mediterranean agricultural and agro-food industry policy

The Arab world has been going through transition since the uprisings in early 2011. These uprisings exposed the growing gap between urban zones and rural zones, which have been marginalized due to the priority that former leaders put on urban industry, coastal tourism and megalopolises. Anticipated trends for the 11 South East Mediterranean Countries (SEMCs) indicate deficits that could reach USD 50 billion by 2030. SEMCs will be the most debt-ridden countries in the world, behind sub-Saharan Africa, thus greatly endangering public health and social cohesion for inhabitants.

In SEMCs, agriculture and related activities provide a livelihood for at least 72 million people. In addition, the population of SEMCs is set to rise from 280 million to 352 million (+72 million) over the next 20 years, while the EU’s will only rise from 501 to 516 million (+15 million), i.e. stagnate, with a significant increase in the active population in the South (+55 million) and an almost symmetrical drop in the North (-44 million). Demographic factors mean that around 2 million jobs per year will need to be created by 2030, in addition to the indispensable absorption of high structural unemployment. The rural area and the food system, craftsmanship and agro-tourism could make a significant contribution in this area. Regarding trade, the EU absorbs 36% of farm and food industry exports from SEMCs and supplies these countries with 32% of their farm and food produce requirements. For the EU, the political and economic stakes of an agricultural partnership with SEMCs should fit in to the objective of contributing to the stability and development of a region with which it has numerous human and economic ties in its proximity-based geopolitical vision. There are obvious opportunities and complementary factors when it comes to agriculture and the agro-food industry: SEMCs need crops and animal produce for which the EU has the production capacity; the EU needs fruit and vegetables and SEMCs have the production potential.

The suggested response to these multiple challenges is to create a common food and agricultural policy for SEMCs (CFAP-SEMC). The CFAP-SEMC’s objective is to improve quantitative and qualitative food security for people by increasing SEMCs’ food and agricultural production and setting up a Euro-Mediterranean trade partnership based on organizing territory-based agro-industry channels for developing rural zones. The cost of a CFAP-SEMC was estimated in the early 2010s as around USD 31 billion per year, of which around 26 billion would go on food policy and 5 billion on agricultural measures. The food component currently weighs heavily on SEMCs’ macro-economic balances. We suggest redirecting these budgets, with a share going to farm production, along with direct aid for economically disadvantaged households combined with tripling the budget devoted to informing and educating consumers and controlling food produce quality. In SEMCs, this will principally involve reassigning current agricultural budgets, which total around 20 billion euro. For the EU, the contribution to the CFAP-SEMC would come to 4% of the current CAP and 26% of the international cooperation policy earmarked for SEMCs. In total, the agricultural component of the CFAP-SEMC would cost less than 13 euro per person per year, i.e. 5 euro per European citizen and 8 euro per SEMC inhabitant. Lastly, the CFAP-SEMC should be part of a Euro-Mediterranean partnership devised as a specific area of the EU’s neighbourhood policy.