Farmers got some more constructive results out of USDA this week. The agency reported that U.S. farm exports for fiscal year 2006 reached a record value of $68.7 billion. Farm imports also hit a record value of $64 billion. Leading the way in exports were corn, cotton and red meats ... each of which grew by more than 20 percent in value over last year.
It's unusual these days to get such positive news in farm trade. In fact, the political aspects of farm trade tend to overshadow the good stuff. That's especially true in regard to world trade talks, where farm trade has been the major hang-up for years.
But, hope springs eternal, and this week there may have been some movement in a more positive direction.
Another in a series of "last chances" for establishing some kind of worldwide trade agreement seemed to disappear in July of this year. Despite that setback there has been back-channel work to create yet another "last chance" to forge some kind of world trade agreement.
A glimmer of hope could be seen as the 21 member nations of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, or APEC, met this week in Hanoi, Viet Nam. Though not officially negotiating a restart of trade talks, APEC members do want World Trade Organization discussions to restart. Pascal Lamy, Chairman of the WTO, was in Hanoi earlier in the week. After returning to Geneva, he called for major players like the European Union and the United States to be more flexible. U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab, in Hanoi as part of the APEC conference, has called resuscitating the Doha round of trade talks a top priority for all WTO members. Peter Mandelson, the European Union's top trade negotiator, always has appeared to be a stone wall when it came to negotiations. but has opened the door slightly by stating that trade talks need to resume soon or they could be closed for "some time to come, possibly years." Many of the 149 WTO member nations want a resolution before July of 2007 when President Bush's authority expires to strike trade deals with a "yes" or "no" vote.
The European Union and the United States, the world's two largest trading entities, always have been deadlocked over the single issue of farm subsidies. Attempts to revive talks in Cancun in 2003, in Hong Kong in 2005, and in Geneva in July ended without resolution.