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Johanns, Portman Testify on WTO Talks

posted on September 23, 2005

The European Union calls on the United States to make meaningful cuts in farm program subsidies to move world trade talks forward.

The U.S. battles pressure from foreign trade partners to remove food shipments from its foreign aid programs.

And, ministers from Europe, the U.S., India and Brazil meet to try and break a deadlock over sensitive farm trade issues, like cotton subsidies.

If this sounds like old news, it is ... because these are trade issues that seemingly can't be resolved and won't go away. Farm trade is the linchpin for any measure of success in the continuing World Trade Organization talks aimed at liberalizing global trade. Now just weeks from a critical WTO summit, U.S. trade reps are trying to reassure American farm interests they won't be forgotten.


Johanns, Portman Testify on WTO Talks

Testifying before the Senate Agriculture Committee this week, U.S. officials all agreed that liberalization of world trade was a priority but they were resolute that American agriculture would not be sacrificed to achieve that end.

Secretary Mike Johanns, United States Department of Agriculture: "We have made it very clear that it is absolutely essential to gain real market access for our farm products around the world. Our objective is to achieve a balanced package; one that levels the playing field on domestic supports and levels the playing field for market access."

Ambassador Rob Portman, United States Trade Representative: "And we need to be darn sure that we get the market access, the export competition, and the other things for our farmers and ranchers and with regard to subsidies, those who subsidize more reduce more."

According to the USDA, 27 percent of the U.S. gross agricultural receipts are derived from foreign customers. At the same time, fees charged on the import of foreign goods hit an average of 12 percent in the U.S., an average of 31 percent in the European Union, and hover around an average of 60 percent worldwide.

In what already has been a four-year process, trade subsidies remain the major sticking point in agricultural negotiations. The WTO recently ruled against the United States over subsidies for cotton in a case brought by Brazil. In light of the decision, Allen Helms from the National Cotton Council made clear the limits of his industry's support for liberalized trade.

Allen Helms, Vice-Chairman National Cotton Council: "U.S. Cotton Industry is fully prepared to work toward an overall, beneficial agricultural agreement and we are prepared to make an equitable contribution toward that positive result. We will oppose any agreement that singles out cotton for unfair treatment."

President Bush told world leaders during a UN speech last week that subsidies and tariffs need to be reduced or eliminated.

With the stage set, the positioning has begun. The EU's Agriculture Minister, Mariann Fischer Boel, has asked the US government to move forward on subsidy reform before opening European markets to US agricultural goods.

And the growing agricultural powerhouse of Brazil is leading a group of 20 nations that joined forces at the failed Cancun talks in 2003. The so-called G20 are asking for reductions in the tariffs of industrialized nations without having to make drastic cuts to their own tariffs.


Tags: agriculture China news trade