Perhaps no public sector offers more opportunity for unintended consequences than trade policy.
For example, the Russian ban on American poultry imports was a response to American quotas on steel imports.
The ban, for the month or so it was in effect, roiled American meat markets. It has been lifted, at least officially. But, the resumption of trade is still weeks away while the Russian government reissues import permits. Meanwhile, the burdensome supply of poultry dark meat favored by the Russians continues to weigh on the market for U.S. livestock.
While American livestock producers endure the impact of its government's protectionist actions, some grain farmers are mounting a campaign on another trade front.
It's not a new problem.
For nearly a decade now, American wheat farmers along the U.S.-Canadian border have employed whatever means possible to stop the flow of Canadian grain pouring across the boundary.
The latest salvo was fired by the North Dakota Wheat Commission, which asked the U.S. government to investigate whether the trading practices of the Canadian Wheat Board gave it an unfair advantage in the marketing of hard red spring and durum wheat.
A 16-month investigation by the U.S. International Trade Commission backed the North Dakota complaint. The ITC, which undertook the probe on behalf of the U.S. Trade Representative, concluded the Canadian Wheat Board's "single desk" approach to the marketing of all wheat and barley grown in the western provinces gives it greater pricing flexibility than private traders.
Neal Fisher, North Dakota Wheat Commission: "What you'll find there is a 30 percent decline in the last six short years in that commitment of North Dakota producers to wheat. That's not of their own accord, it's because they've been discouraged from doing so by the practices of the Canadian Wheat Board."
U.S. lawmakers representing wheat-growing states welcomed the findings, but are angered the Bush administration sought no further action. Though the investigation outlined several retaliatory options, critics claim none are expedient enough to bring quick relief to cash-strapped American wheat farmers.
Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-ND: "You've said, Canada you're guilty but, by the way, there's no remedy.'"
North Dakota Democrat Byron Dorgan is calling for a tariff rate quota, or TRQ, to try and stem the flow of Canadian grain into the U.S., as well as level the playing field in third markets where Canadian and U.S. grain compete,
But the Bush administration is seeking reform at the Canadian Wheat Board while pursuing broader free trade policies on a global level. Slapping a TRQ on the Canadians, it says, runs counter to that goal.
Allen Johnson, USTR Ag Negotiator: "And I'd just like to point out we're not alone in going after the Canadian Wheat Board. Japan, Europe and others have expressed an interest in this and we continue to work for that."
Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-ND: "I hope that you'll go back and tell the folks you work with, Ambassador Zoellick and others, that it's time to slap a TRQ on these folks, and if there's a risk to doing that, let's take some risks for a change on behalf of our farmers. Just take some risks"