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Talent, Lincoln defy administration on farm bill extension

Senators Jim Talent of Missouri and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas announced they have introduced legislation that would extend the 2002 farm bill until the WTO completes negotiations on a new trade agreement.

Defying the Bush administration and the Senate leadership, Talent, a Republican, and Lincoln, a Democrat, said they hope the move signals Doha Round negotiators that U.S. farmers must be reckoned with before any new WTO agreement passes Congress.

Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns and Sen. Saxby Chambliss, chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, have both said they oppose a long-term extension of the 2002 farm bill.

“We will not unilaterally disarm farmers and ranchers in Missouri without assurances that we will get real and meaningful reforms in the WTO in return,” said Talent, chairman of the Senate's Agriculture Subcommittee on Marketing, Inspection and Product Promotion. “We must maintain the current framework until we know the rules of the game.”

“Until our trading partners in the WTO have at least matched our commitment to level disparities in global agriculture trade, our farmers will be operating at a severe disadvantage,” said Lincoln, who also serves on the Agriculture Committee. “It is in our country's best interest — both economically and from a national security standpoint — that we extend our current agriculture policy until these trade laws can be finalized.”

The legislation, which is cosponsored by Senators Kit Bond, R-Mo., Norm Coleman, R-Minn., Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., Mary Landrieu, D-La., Mark Pryor, D-Ark. and David Vitter, R-La., would allow the 2002 farm bill, which is scheduled to expire next year, to remain in effect while the Doha negotiations continue.

The Talent-Lincoln bill would also keep the current farm bill in place for at least one crop year after Congress has approved legislation to implement any Doha agreement.

While Chambliss had said he would support a temporary extension of the farm bill if a Doha agreement was imminent, he has indicated he wants to write a new farm bill before the current law expires on Sept. 30, 2007.

Johanns has said on numerous occasions that the Bush administration wants an extensive overhaul of the current law in 2007 and will oppose any efforts to extend the 2002 law's provisions beyond next year.

Farm organizations were quick to express their support for the Talent-Lincoln bill.

“Congress should undertake the task of writing a new farm bill only after our global competitors have agreed on market access, domestic support and export competition commitments in the Doha Round negotiations,” said Paul T. Combs, chairman of the USA Rice Producers Group.

“WTO negotiators have missed several important deadlines for reaching an agreement. The lack of substantial progress in the negotiations makes it imperative for Congress to extend the current farm act.”

The National Cotton Council, which had not taken a position on extending the farm bill, broke its silence with a press release in which NCC members thanked Talent and Lincoln for their legislation.

“Senator Talent knows that Missouri's agriculture and rural economies make tremendous investments in order to produce food and fiber and move those products to market,” said Johnnie Hux, a Sikeston, Mo., cotton and corn producer.

“Enacting an extension of the 2002 farm bill would reduce much of the uncertainty that plagues today's farm economy, uncertainty that is exacerbated by domestic budget pressures, rising fuel and fertilizer costs, and uncertain international negotiations. The bi-partisan effort to support U.S. agriculture is encouraging and demonstrates leadership in reaching out to find like minded supporters.”

“Senator Lincoln has again demonstrated bi-partisan leadership of the best kind in an effort to support U.S. agriculture during a period of increased economic uncertainty,” said NCC Chairman Allen Helms. “While WTO trade negotiations have not demonstrated any momentum over the past two years, U.S. agriculture is being pressured by rising fuel and fertilizer costs and increased domestic budget pressures.”

Helms, a farmer from Clarkedale, Ark., said Lincoln previously joined with Sen. Chambliss, a Republican from Georgia, to defeat an amendment to significantly cut program benefits and undermine effective farm policy.

While Talent and Lincoln were introducing their legislation, Johanns, U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman and his deputy, Susan Schwab, were meeting with trade ministers of other countries at the WTO headquarters in Geneva to try to revive the Doha Round negotiations.

The WTO missed an April 30 deadline for reaching an agreement on tariff reductions because of the European Union's refusal to open its member countries' markets to increased exports of U.S. agricultural products. It was one of a number of deadlines that have come and gone since the Doha Round began in Qatar in 2001.

Portman and Mark Vaile, Australia's trade minister, issued a joint statement saying that although time is short they still believe the WTO can reach a new agreement in the Doha Round by the end of this year. (Most observers believe an agreement must be completed and submitted to the Congress before President Bush's trade promotion authority expires in July 2007.)

“To take this round forward we urgently need flexibility on all sides,” the statement said. “We have agreed to work together and with other WTO members as our top priority over coming weeks to find the various points of necessary flexibility and compromise well in advance of the next deadline July 31.”

The statement said Portman and Vaile welcome statements from EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson indicating that the European Union is prepared to strengthen its offer on agricultural market access. They said market access will continue to be the key to resolving differences between WTO members.

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