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Schwab comments more fodder for U.S. agriculture policy critics

Just when U.S. farmers thought they could breath a little easier about the Doha Round, U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab reportedly said the United States is willing to make more reductions in its farm programs to help re-start the world trade negotiations.

According to press reports, Schwab was attending a meeting in Cairns, Australia, when she said Washington was willing to give more ground on the subsidies issue, which supposedly led to the collapse of the Doha Round negotiations in Geneva in July.

Schwab, who was attending the meeting as an observer, was quoted later as saying the United States had already made a “very big, very bold” offer on subsidies that was rejected by European Union officials and was finished making any more concessions until the EU agreed to make meaningful reductions in its tariffs.

“We've indicated our proposal is negotiable, that we are even prepared to do more in terms of cutting domestic support … if and when there is significantly more market access on the table in agriculture,” she told a news conference.

But media outlets seized on the first part of the quote and generally ignored the second, making it seem that the United States was caving in to pressure from the EU and Japan at the meeting to make more cuts than it previously proposed.

“The United States will need to move on domestic support,” Carlo Trojan, the EU's chief WTO representative, was quoted as telling the Cairns Group delegates. “That is a precondition for breaking the deadlock.”

Back in the United States, at least one farm-state senator seized on the reports to accuse Schwab and the Bush administration of using the meeting and the Doha Round as a means of achieving an end-run around Congress.

“Our trade ambassador is offering more without getting anything in return,” said Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and a member of the Agriculture Committee. “What kind of negotiating strategy does our trade ambassador have? This administration is simply bent on shredding U.S. farm support programs.”

Conrad said he has long been concerned that the Bush administration is trying to eliminate U.S. farm programs without going through Congress. Last October, then-U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman tabled a proposal that would reduce U.S. “Amber Box” programs by 60 percent if the EU, Japan and other countries would significantly increase access to their markets.

“This is what I predicted when I voted against Ambassador Schwab's nomination last spring,” said Conrad. “She is continuing to toe the party line and plow full speed ahead with this administration's reckless trade policies. Ambassador Schwab is literally betting the farm, putting America's producers at a huge disadvantage in world markets.”

You can't fault Schwab for wanting to have something to show for the nearly five years the U.S. Trade Representative's office has worked on the Doha Round. But talking about more concessions only whets the appetites of the WTO sharks that are circling in the water.

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