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Farm groups, congressmen declare support for U.S. WTO position

The U.S. farm community appears to be lining up in support of U.S. trade officials’ decision to just say no to further concessions to the European Union and the so-called advanced developing countries in the Doha Development Round.

Most of the country’s major farm and commodity organizations issued statements praising U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab’s and Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns’ efforts after the Doha Round negotiations were suspended indefinitely in Geneva, Switzerland.

Farm-state House members and senators also joined in supporting the Bush administration’s trade team, expressing the general sentiment that “no agreement was better than a bad agreement,” as Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, put it.

American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman said his organization regretted that the opportunity for fairer trading rules under a new Doha agreement had been missed in the collapse of the talks in Geneva.

“Farmers and consumers all around the world had a lot to gain from the Doha Round of WTO trade negotiations,” said Stallman in a statement issued by the AFBF shortly after WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy announced the suspension of the negotiations this morning.

“We stand behind our belief that freer and fairer agricultural trading rules would benefit all the people of the world. In the face of these talks being suspended, we will prepare to move forward with proposals to ensure that U.S. farmers have the kind of support they need to survive in today’s global trading environment.”

The National Cotton Council, an organization whose members clearly had more to lose than gain in the Doha Round after the U.S. cotton program was singled out for special treatment, expressed its appreciation to Schwab and Johanns for refusing to “allow unwarranted pressures or deadlines to undermine the U.S. position.

“Ambassador Schwab and Secretary Johanns have demonstrated they clearly understand that the significant U.S. offer on market access, domestic agricultural support and export subsidies has not been matched,” said NCC Chairman Allen Helms, a producer from Clarkedale, Ark.

“It may take longer than anticipated to bring the Doha Round to a successful conclusion, but the determination of the U.S. negotiating team is a positive sign for U.S. agriculture and for the world’s agricultural producers.”

Last October, Schwab’s predecessor, former U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman, tabled a proposal that would have reduced U.S. farm subsidies by 60 percent following the completion of a Doha agreement. But Portman, Schwab and Johanns made it clear the U.S. subsidy cuts were contingent on tariff reductions in the European Union and other countries.

U.S., EU and other members of the G-6 countries – Australia, Brazil, the EU, India, Japan and the United States – continued to meet through the winter and into the spring, but the talks finally broke down in Geneva this weekend after the EU refused once again to make more than token reductions in its tariffs.

For his part, Peter Mandelson, the EU’s trade minister, blamed the United States for the collapse of the talks, saying once again that the U.S. proposal would not produce “meaningful” reductions in domestic support. U.S. officials countered, noting that the ceiling on U.S. Amber Box subsidies would decline from $19.1 billion to $7.6 billion under the U.S. offer.

Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, issued a statement from a farm bill hearing in Ankeny, Iowa, that indicated Mandelson’s claims were expected.

“It is not surprising that the European Union continues to dodge blame for refusing to offer a serious market access proposal,” he said. “Where the European Union desires a deal that only protects their farmers, the United States wants a good deal that lowers barriers to trade.

“The WTO is not a debating society. If the Europeans are serious about the negotiations, they will take advantage of this cooling off period and come back with a proposal that significantly reduces tariffs in developed and developing economies. The United States will not negotiate with itself in an endless cycle that builds barriers between trading partners.”

Chambliss said Ambassador Schwab and Secretary Johanns deserved applause for “not caving to pressure calling on the United States to unilaterally disarm. They will be coming home knowing that farmers and ranchers across the country stand firmly behind them.”

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