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Column: Democrats propose farm bill extension

They may be of different political persuasions, but many row-crop farmers will applaud the introduction of a one-year extension of the 2002 farm bill by a group of Democratic Congressmen.

Collin Peterson, D-Minn., ranking member on the Agriculture Committee, and Jim Costa, D-Calif., say the extension would provide certainty to farmers and allow U.S. negotiators to focus on the ongoing WTO Doha Development Round negotiations.

“With farmers facing record energy costs, natural disasters, low commodity prices and cuts in farm programs, this bill assures they can count on the farm bill to continue in its current form until we see what the Doha Round could mean for American agriculture,” Peterson said.

The bill would extend the commodity title through crop year 2008 and the remaining titles through either fiscal year or calendar year 2008, depending on their expiration date. An additional one-year extension would occur if the President does not submit implementing legislation based on the outcome of the Doha Round by Jan. 15, 2008.

“An extension will encourage our global trading partners to work toward a level playing field and give us time to analyze the outcome of the Doha Round before rewriting our own farm policy,” said Costa.

The Congressmen said the bill would take some of the pressure off U.S. negotiators by ensuring that U.S. negotiators “do not have to rush through the negotiating process” to deliver a trade pact to Congress before a new farm bill is written.

Administration reaction to the proposed legislation is expected to be lukewarm. Although hundreds of farmers speaking at USDA’s farm bill forums have said they like the current law, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns says most of the benefits go to a small number of farmers, driving up land prices and frustrating would-be growers.

President Bush has also pledged that the United States will significantly reduce its farm subsidies. And, although the United States tabled a proposal to reduce those by 60 percent in the Doha Round, developing countries, led by Brazil, are demanding it do more.

Peterson, Costa and the bill’s 15 cosponsors say the United States should not begin to dismantle its farm bill while the Doha Development Round is still being negotiated.

World Trade Organization leaders planned to have an agreement on the agricultural segment of the Doha Round for the Hong Kong Ministerial Conference in mid-December. But the European Union’s reluctance to open its markets to more imports has put that agenda in jeopardy.

Johanns and U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman told reporters on Nov. 14 that they believe such an agreement can still be reached in the Doha Round in 2006, but that pushes the negotiations back into the timetable Congress was expected to use for writing a new farm bill.

Some will call the farm bill extension – like the Democrats forcing the Senate into a closed session on Iraq – grandstanding. But it’s refreshing to see the minority party proposing alternatives to the status quo.


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