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Agriculture and The World Trade Organisation

Gurdarshan Singh Bhalla
Jean-Luc Racine
Frédéric Landy

II. Market and regulation: the national scenarios

6. Common Agricultural Policy and Regional Changes in France

Jean-Paul Charvet

Texte intégral

1Thanks to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) the European Community (EC) became the fourth or the third cereal producer in the world, just behind or just before India depending on the choice for taking into account rice production: paddy or milled rice. At the end of the 1990’s, the Indian cereal production was 225 million tonnes on a paddy basis and 183 million tonnes on a milled rice basis. If the EU is growing more wheat (98 M t versus 68 M t) and more coarse grains (105 M t versus 31 M t) than India, the Indian paddy production (125 M t) is far more important than the European one (2.5 M t only). In this context, France is now, behind the USA, the second exporter of agricultural products in the world.

2Since the beginning of the CAP in the 1960’s, the means for supporting farmers’incomes have changed a lot. New components were progressively added to the original economic and social policy that was mainly based upon a price policy. Since the 1970’s, steps were taken in favour of “Less Favoured Areas” or LFAs and mountainous areas. In 1992, a new CAP was settled, with new means (direct payments) for supporting the farmers’ incomes. Lastly, in 1999, within the context of the so-called “Agenda 2000 “, the stress was put on a more rural-oriented policy. We will deal here with the spatial consequences or geographical projections of the CAP main components through the French example, but they should not be very different in most of the other countries of the EU.

3The policies implemented from the 1960’s for supporting the European farmers’incomes strengthened production belts that are now highly spespecialised: cereal basins or cash grain farming areas, milk belts, belts of pork production or/and of poultry production, etc. From the 1970’s, the steps taken through zonings in favour of the LFAs and mountainous areas allowed the survival of specific types of agriculture. More recently, from the 1980’s and mainly from the 1990’s, agro-environmental steps strengthened the existing geographical differentiations, the reason being that these steps were primarily targeted at areas with poor agronomic conditions. Adding all these successive and parallel policies sharpened the social and spatial differences that already existed in the French (and European) countryside. This countryside is presently made of agricultural and rural areas differing more and more from each other, for economical and social reasons, but also for agricultural and rural policy reasons. These evolutions are linked to the fact that the CAP became a more and more territorialized policy.

The emergence and strengthening of highly specialised production basins

4The means for supporting the farmers’incomes in the CAP of the 1960’s were mainly prices settled at levels much higher than the average levels of prices on the world markets. On the contrary, the means for supporting the farmers’incomes in the present CAP are mainly based upon compensatory or deficiency payments and this type of agricultural subsidy is for the moment placed, with the direct payments that are given to US farmers, into the “blue box” of the WTO. But when one looks at the geographical or spatial consequences of these two CAPs, they are not so different. Looking at cereal production, the subsidy that was previously proportional to the amount of grain produced is now proportional to a factor of production: the amount of arable land, at the farm level as well as at the agricultural region level. In spite of the change of agricultural policy, we still have the same territorial or spatial consequences: the main part of the grain production subsidy is directed to a rather limited number of farms and areas.

5In France, the major cash grain farming area is the Parisian Basin: 13 out of the 14 French départements that are producing together more than 50% of the French wheat production are located in the Parisian basin (fig. 1). (A département is the equivalent of an Indian district). For sugar beet production, the EC market organisation is different, with a system of quotas, organised on a geographical basis, by country and by sugar factory, with guaranteed prices. This leads to a higher spatial concentration: more than 50% of the French sugar beet production comes from only four départements. They are all located in the Parisian Basin, north of Paris (fig. 1).

6In the same way, a rather limited number of French départements (14 out of 90) produce together more than 50% of the French milk production. Since 1984 the EC has organised a system of milk quotas which in France are strongly linked to territories, namely the different French départements. To a large extent, the French map of milk production was frozen by the quotas: today, about 50% of the French milk production is coming from the so-called “Great West” that gathers Normandy, Brittany and Vendée (fig.2). As in France more than 50% of beef meat production is coming from former milk cows, an important part of this production is coming from the Great West. The only main exception to this location is the beef production of the northeastern parts of the Massif Central where Charolais cattle (providing high quality beef), are raised on meadows. But 16 départements produce together more than 50% of the French beef meat production (fig. 2).

Fig. 1: Wheat and sugar beet productions

Fig. 1: Wheat and sugar beet productions

Fig.2: Milk and beef meat productions

Fig.2: Milk and beef meat productions

7For hog and poultry production, the market organisation is far lighter. On one hand, the European subsidies are limited for these productions and quite often the exports toward countries that are not members of the EC do not need any subsidy. On the other hand, hog and poultry breeding are using different feedstuffs like corn gluten feed, oil meals or oilcakes (mainly soyabean meal) that are coming directly from the world market. We have to remember that since the 1960’s and the true beginning of the CAP there have been neither taxes nor duties on these feedstuff imports or on the oilseed imports. This particular situation explains to a large extent the location of the hog and poultry breeding industries and intensive animal factories in the EC: they are today mainly located close to the coasts and to the harbour facilities in the Netherlands, in the northern parts of Germany, in the north-east of Spain near Barcelona and, in France, in Brittany (fig. 3).

8The main factors of agricultural regional specialisation are well known even if their combinations are different from one place to an other (Charvet, 1997). Some comparative advantages are linked to agronomic conditions: a good way of reducing production costs is to select the agricultural productions that present the best adjustment to the local agronomic conditions. For example, the Parisian basin with its often thick silty soils and flat tablelands is very well suited for highly mechanised grain production.

9The farm sizes are also playing an important role in the regional agricultural specialisations. When the sizes in hectares are limited, the farmers have to intensity their operations as they have done in Brittany. On the contrary, they can extensify their productions when they can use large acreages like in different parts of the Parisian basin.

10Lastly, the geographical location of the farms and agricultural regions is important for understanding their specialisations. The nearness to harbours that are able to import and/or to export agricultural products, the closeness to factories where agricultural products are processed, play an important role in the processes of specialisation.

11All in all, the free-trade economy within the EC allows strong competition between farms and between agricultural regions. Agricultural specialization presents economical advantages: it allows the setting up of efficient agrobusiness channels. But it is also generating economical, social and environmental problems.

The zonings in favour of less favoured agricultural areas

12These zonings have been settled only since the mid 1970’s and the different subsidies that are linked to them can be filed into the WTO “green box”. They were settled according to different criterions (fig.4).

Fig. 3: Hog and poultry productions

Fig. 3: Hog and poultry productions

Fig.4: The French less favoured agricultural areas at the end of the 1990’s

Fig.4: The French less favoured agricultural areas at the end of the 1990’s

13For the less favoured agricultural areas (LFAs) that are not located in mountainous areas, delimitation is based upon demographic and economic criterions. In these areas, population is declining and getting older and older. Moreover, the economic activities are not very varied and employment in agriculture remains important. Access to these areas is not as easy as to those where the transport networks are more dense and efficient, such as in the centre of the Parisian Basin or the Rhône valley.

14For the mountainous areas, the zonings have been decided according to physical criterions: altitudes, slopes, and climatic conditions. A French commune (the commune is the smallest territorial division in France, and is often a past mediaeval parish) is classified into a “mountain” zone when located above an altitude of 600 meters. The gradient of the slopes is also taken into account, more exactly the area where the gradient is above 20%. Within the mountainous zones are distinguished the “high mountain areas” where altitudes are above 1200 metres. Surrounding the mountainous areas, “submountain” zones are also defined. Lastly, in the southern parts of France dry zones, with specific subsidies, have been delimitated.

15The main subsidy granted to the mountain areas is the “Compensatory Indemnity for Physical Handicaps”. It is paid by head of cattle or by hectare. In 1999, the average payment was 940 FF per hectare. For beef cattle the special subsidy reaches 1000 FF per animal in the high mountain zones, 740 Francs per animal in the mountain zones themselves, 280 FF per animal in the submountain zones and 200 FF per animal in the LFAs that are located outside the mountain and submountain areas.

16However, there are ceilings for these subsidies. The total number of animals should remain under 120 per hectare; these subsidies are aimed at “family farms” (according to French criterions). The number of beef cattle should also remain under 1.4 per hectare. These payments are aimed at extensive types of agriculture and are granted for the maintenance of landscapes.

17Other payments are helping the settlement of young farmers or the promotion of quality products: milk, different kinds of cheese, pork meat, etc., in the mountain areas. European and French rules are promoting special kinds of agriculture in the mountains and thanks to them these particular agricultural areas are becoming more and more specific within the European agricultural map.

Particular agro-environmental steps

18The geographical location of areas where particular agro-environmental steps are applied inside or outside the LFAs emphasises to a large extent the existence of different kinds of agriculture and different agronomic conditions. The corresponding measures can be filed into the WTO “green box” and have a good chance of staying there in the future.

19The first basis of these agro-environmental steps was Article 19 of the European rule 797 established in 1985. But in France it was only at the tail end of the 1980’s that the first experiences were organised. In 1994 only 2% of the French agricultural subsidies were aimed at agro-environmental purposes and the round figures were still at the same level in 1998, even if they are supposed to increase in the years to come.

20Different agro-environmental steps were successively set:

  • the first ones, the OLAEs (“Opérations Locales Agri-Environnementales” or “Local agro-environmental steps”) were settled before the new 1992 CAP

  • the MAEs (“Mesures Agri-Environnementales” or “Agro-environmental steps”) were settled by the new 1992 CAP itself

  • lastly, from 1995 and only in France, were settled the PDDs (“Plans de Développement Durable” or “Sustainable Development Plans”) and, at the end of the 1990’s the CTEs (“Contrats Territoriaux d’Exploitation” or “Farm Management Contracts”) that are the continuation of the PDDs.

21It would be too long to describe here in detail all these steps (Charvet, 1996 and 1998; Fruit, 1998). Their common point of all these steps is to try to encourage a better management of the agricultural environment. Here we will only deal briefly with the territorial or spatial projections of these particular steps.

22Their very pronounced geographical dispersion remains true at different geographical scales. At the national level, it is easy to point out that the OLAE or Local agro-environmental steps are far more numerous in the southern half of France than in the northern half and that their precise locations are largely scattered across the countryside (Fruit, 1998).

23At the regional level, it is clear that two main types of areas are included in these agro-environmental steps:

  • the extensive pasture lands of various mountains, particularly in the Mediterranean mountains

  • various wetlands located in the interior, like Sologne just south of the city of Orléans, or along the valleys and the coasts like the Seine estuary downstream from Rouen.

24In both cases farmers have to cope with poor or even very poor agronomic conditions. The areas where farming activities benefit from good agronomic conditions are seldom included into the zones where these particular agro-environmental steps have been developed.

25At the level of each watershed, the contracts are concluded on an individual basis and the farmers always have the choice to participate or not in the agro-environmental programs. This situation raises the question of the efficiency of steps that are only developed by some farmers and on scattered plots of farmland. It is even possible to participate in the agro-environmental programs for some parts of the farm and not for the others. We have examples of this kind of situation in the Seine valley, downstream from Rouen. Often farmers are contracting for some meadows that are located in the flood plain and not for the fields lying a little higher on the river terraces where they are still using important quantities of fertilisers, pesticides, etc. (Fruit, 1998). One good reason is that the subsidies obtained by hectare from agro-environmental steps are, on average, two or three times lower than the ones coming from cereal or oilseed growing on arable lands.

26The global territorial result is for the moment a patchwork map on which are juxtaposed, at different scales, areas that are more and more different from each other and that are managed in very different ways. This is not an efficient management of environmental problems. This situation could be only improved by raising the “eco-conditionnality” of the direct or compensatory payments that are given to the farmers.


27The adding and/or juxtaposition of the different and successive agricultural and agro-environmental policies sharpened the social and spatial differences, which already existed in the French countryside. This countryside is presently made of different scales of juxtaposed agricultural areas differing more and more from each other. One can consider that the territorial differences are reinforced and even “institutionalized” by the various elements of more and more complex legislations creating official zonings.

28Considering the different coloured boxes in which the agricultural subsidies are distributed since the Uruguay Round negotiations, a wide majority of the present European agricultural subsidies are classified into the blue and the green boxes. This could evolve through the next WTO negotiations, with a “greening” of the payments. For the moment, EU agricultures work with different means and steps according to the different areas in which they are located. The more and more territorialized CAP that we are experiencing now shows that it is possible to raise specific policies for specific agricultural areas inside a general framework, but its management is becoming more and more intricate.



Charvet, J-P., 1996, “Sustainable Development Plans in France: an alternative to agriculture development?” in Sakasi and al. (eds)., Geographical Perspectives on Sustainable Rural Systems, Tokyo, Kasei publications.

— 1997, La France agricole dans son environnement européen et mondial, Paris, Liris-Nathan.

— 2000, “Les stratégies des exploitations de grande culture du Bassin parisien face aux réformes de la PAC”, in Croix, N. (ed), op. cit. 2000.

Charvet, J-P., Poulot-Moreau, M. Rouyrès, Th., 1998, “Les plans de développement durable dans les régions de grande culture du Bassin parisien”, in Croix, N. (ed), op. cit., 1998.

Croix, N., (ed)., 1998, Environnement et nature dans les campagnes, Rennes, Presses Universitaires de Rennes.

— (ed)., 2000, Des campagnes vivantes: un modèle pour l’Europe?, Nantes, Cestan-Igarun, Université de Nantes.

Fruit, J-P., 1998, “Les opérations locales agri-environnementales dans l’espace français et dans la vallée de la Seine normande”, in Croix, N. (ed), op. cit. 1998.

Graph Agri, 1999 & 2000, Paris, Ministère de l’Agriculture et de la Pêche.

Le Roy, P., 1993, Les agricultures françaises face aux marchés mondiaux, Paris, A.Colin.

Loyat, J. & Petit, Y., 1999, La politique agricole commune, Paris, La Documentation Française.

Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1: Wheat and sugar beet productions
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Titre Fig.2: Milk and beef meat productions
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Titre Fig. 3: Hog and poultry productions
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Titre Fig.4: The French less favoured agricultural areas at the end of the 1990’s
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© Éditions de la Maison des sciences de l’homme, 2002

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