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Farm-state Congressmen blast WTO panel’s Brazilian ruling

WASHINGTON – A World Trade Organization panel ruling on Brazil’s complaints against U.S. cotton subsidies may generate newspaper headlines, but the U.S. Congress will continue to decide how much support the federal government provides to U.S. farmers.

That was the gist of a statement issued by the chairman and ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee after portions of the WTO panel’s ruling began to leak to the national media Tuesday. Similar comments were made by the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., chairman, and Rep. Charlie Stenholm, D-Texas, ranking member, of the House Agriculture Committee, said they were aware of the reports about the panel’s interim decision.

“Reports also indicate that the administration plans to appeal this WTO decision, and we support that action,” they said. Meanwhile, the congressmen said they believe there are “certain principles” that must also be stated:

“Under the WTO rules, countries are permitted to support their farmers in ways that are the least trade distorting. WTO rules govern the amounts countries may provide their farmers. The United States abides by the WTO rules and is, and has been, in accord with its rules on agriculture.

“World trade in agriculture is highly competitive and barriers, such as high tariffs, are rampant. Countries regularly deny access for U.S. agricultural products for many reasons, including non-scientific barriers for U.S. beef, grains and fruits and vegetables. We have said repeatedly that gaining access for U.S. agricultural products is the most important objective of the ongoing WTO negotiations. Our agricultural tariffs are low; the average is 12 percent, while worldwide agricultural tariffs average 62 percent.”

Any changes to countries' agricultural policies should come through negotiations between WTO members and not through decisions that do not appear based on WTO rules, the congressmen said.

Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Nutrition, also noted that Congress has not rewritten the 2002 farm bill no matter what the WTO panel might say in its final ruling that is due to be issued June 18.

“While this is a disappointing development, it does not change the provisions in the current law,” said Cochran. “I’m sure the administration will continue to support the interest of farmers in this WTO process.”

e-mail: flaws@primediabusiness.com

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