Exporting Europe's Protectionism

Exporting Europe's Protectionism

Mini Teaser: Europe is busy making protectionism a cultural value. And you thought Doha was messy.

by Author(s): Lawrence A. Kogan

"Initially, precaution was [used] by German authorities in the early 1980s to justify unilateral application of technology based standards to reduce acid rain. But once in place, the Germans pressed the EU to adopt similar standards across the rest of Europe, to prevent its own industries being placed at a competitive disadvantage. This was not enlightened environmentalism at work but the dictates of a competitive market of member states."

Similar protectionist goals underpin the export of EU regulations to other countries. This was made abundantly clear in a presentation given by Jeremy Wall of the Forest-Based Industries Unit of the EU Commission. According to Wall,

"EU forests are for their most part well managed, engendering higher costs to forest owners and to wood buyers, but no market advantage is accrued over competitors, many of whom do not always bear the full costs of SFM [sustainable forestry management]. Thus, a key recommendation of the study [of the competitiveness of the European Union woodworking industries] was to 'export EU environmental (and social) standards', in other words to promote the raising of forest management standards world-wide--which is good for forests--and thereby enhance competitiveness--which is good for [EU] forest-based industries."

Thus, the EU seeks to export its standards (and costs) to foreign producers directly. Increasingly, however, it employs a more subtle and even covert method: It subsidizes NGOs in other countries that then seek to reproduce EU-style rules at home through political pressure. This remote-control policy is hard to trace, because often the EU (and sometimes individual EU countries) give subsidies to European NGOs that pass on the money to their subsidiaries abroad. What makes this policy so effective is that the sums of money are often large by local standards, but they arrive in the semi-disguise of humanitarian outreach.

Some of the most outrageous examples of this practice concern the campaign against GMOs in countries with large malnourished populations. As the New York Times noted in a February 21, 2003 article, one such country, the Philippines, has recently become the target of a sustained campaign by anti-GMO activists. The reason? The Philippines is home to the International Rice Institute, which is attempting to develop a strain of rice fortified with vitamin A, called "golden rice."

But this has not gone unnoticed in Europe, and the NGO community, flush with EU grants, has responded. The South Asia Regional Institute for Community Education (SEARICE), the Philippines' main anti-biotech NGO, has received substantial funding from the Development Fund of Norway, including an anti-GMO, anti-biotech propaganda campaign. SEARICE has also received funding and support from the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, the Swedish government's aid agency. And the Humanist Institute for Development Cooperation, a Dutch NGO and recipient of EU and Dutch government largesse, also provides support to SEARICE, as well as to hundreds of other local organizations in dozens of developing countries.

While the EU has publicly declared GM foods to be "safer than conventional plants and foods", its member states (and the EU itself) generously fund anti-biotech groups like Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, and Consumers International. Each of these groups has actively opposed the provision of GM food aid to the developing world. As the Center for Consumer Freedom noted, "the Director of the European Union Com-mission on Consumer Protection [has] admitted that Europe funds the very environmental organizations that stirred up anti-biotech hysteria in sub-Saharan Africa, prompting Zambia's president to reject" millions of dollars of U.S. food aid. In a bizarre yet telling non sequitur, a Greenpeace spokesman declared, "Science is not a church or a religion. It is not enough anymore for European consumers to have somebody with a white coat, a professional, say it's o.k."

This is Luddite psychobabble. What is going on here? Abandoning clear scientific standards in favor of vague and arbitrary cultural ideas, employing the resulting pseudo-science as a protectionist device, and using apparently independent NGOs to help enforce this protectionism, the EU has embarked upon an adventure in environmental cultural imperialism. This is a global practice reminiscent of an earlier European colonial era. And the fact that Europe is using "soft power" to enforce it will hardly make it more palatable to people who will be unable to feed themselves as a result. A confrontation by the world's free-trading governments with the EU's regulators could deal another serious blow to an already ailing WTO, but a failure to confront would abet a grave assault on entrepreneurial capitalism and threaten the global economic growth that promises to drive the 21st century.

Lawrence A. Kogan is an international business, environment and trade attorney who has advised the National Foreign Trade Council on WTO trade and environmental issues.

Essay Types: Essay