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'High anxiety' time for agriculture

With Congress back from recess Sept. 2, the Senate is expected to take up the fiscal year 2004 agricultural appropriations bill. Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley has said he will try to attach his payment limit amendment to it or other legislation.

If that wasn’t enough to give growers heartburn, the Commission on the Application of Payment Limits to Agriculture is expected to release its report in mid- to late September.

Commission members, nominated by the chairmen of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees and the secretary of agriculture, are not required to make recommendations on payment limits, but their report could help stoke the debate on a Grassley amendment.

Several senators, including Ag Committee chairman Thad Cochran and Sen. Grassley and House members will be traveling to Cancun for the ministerial conference on the Doha Round of the WTO Sept. 10-14.

Three weeks ago, U.S. and European negotiators announced they had reached a framework agreement in which the United States apparently offered to give up U.S. export credit programs that have helped sell American cotton and rice overseas.

Many have speculated about what might happen in Cancun, but, given U.S. negotiators seeming predisposition “to give away the store” to achieve an agreement, cotton and rice farmers have reason to be worried

On Sept. 18, the U.S. Trade Representative’s office will conduct its annual hearing on China’s compliance with its WTO commitments. Cotton leaders are expected to express displeasure at the lack of progress China has made on its new quality restrictions on cotton imports and the tariff rate quotas required in its WTO.

The hearing should also provide some clues on whether the tougher talk coming out of the administration on Chinese trade issues in recent days is just talk or a sign it is finally willing to go to the mat for U.S. farmers.

Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman reportedly delivered a strong warning to the Chinese Agriculture Minister on Aug. 25 that the United States would not tolerate China’s new restrictions on soybean imports.

The ag minister reportedly said “there wasn’t any problem,” meaning either the secretary’s message didn’t register or Mr. Du was trying to put a good face on the meeting.

On another issue, the National Cotton Council is circulating a letter asking the administration to approve the textile industry’s China safeguard petitions. The petitions ask for quota reductions on three categories of Chinese imports that have flooded the U.S. market.

And the WTO could make a ruling in September on Brazil’s complaints that U.S. farm programs have damaged its cotton industry.

Most observers don’t expect Congress to finish all 13 appropriations bills by the fiscal year’s end Sept. 30, which means many legislative issues, including payment limits, could spill over into October.


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