US and Canadian Agriculture Ministers Offer Sharply Different Views of US Farm Bill
US Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman and Canadian Minister of Agriculture Lyle Vanclief presented sharply different views of US agricultural policy and its impact on the ability of the US to provide leadership for the Doha Development Agenda at a recent seminar sponsored by the International Policy Council on Agriculture Food and Trade in Ottawa Canada.
Secretary Veneman indicated that the United States "remains committed to continuing, to aggressively pursuing trade reform in the Doha Round. The farm bill does not in any way change that." She added, "Moreover, we're going to continue to provide strong advocacy and leadership toward this objective. Expanding access to growth markets with freer and fairer trade is the best alternative we have for a robust and dynamic food and agriculture system. The point should be clear that we will conform our farm laws to encourage new Doha Round agreements, and particularly ones that have substantial results in market access."
Minister Vanclief countered that US leadership in Geneva was "very much in question at the moment". He noted that Canada "had been looking to the US farm bill to set an example for the world trading community, especially developing countries". He lamented that the US Congress "had agreed to significantly increase trade-distorting support in the new Farm Bill. Instead of encouraging American producers to reap the rewards of trade liberalization, the new Farm Bill encourages them to harvest handouts." He reminded seminar attendees that "we need the developing countries in the WTO, and subsidizing rich countries production is not the way to keep them there."
Members of the International Policy Council, who have echoed many of Minister Vancliefs concerns, were encouraged by the Secretary Venemans commitment to the Doha Development Agenda and by her promises to ensure that US farm legislation adhered to US commitments in the WTO. However, IPC members remain seriously worried that, even though the US farm bill institutionalizes the support that Congress has been awarding farmers through emergency spending, the legislation will make it difficult for the US to carry a strong message supporting agricultural trade liberalization. The IPC members were also deeply concerned that the US farm bill will lead to trade disputes which will further sap energy for trade negotiations.
IPC Vice Chairman and former Minister of Agriculture from the Netherlands, Piet Bukman noted that in line with CAP reforms in the early 1990s, the European Union is moving away from price supports and towards direct payments. Europe, he said, has now a greater flexibility toward the commitments made in the Uruguay Round than in the past. In contrast, he contended the new US Farm Bill gives the United States little room to ask for concessions from other countries in the trade talks.
Mike Gifford, IPC member and former Canadian trade negotiator noted that agriculture would be the most difficult subject in Geneva. IPC Member Emeritus, Pedro de Camargo, State Secretary for Brazilian Agricultural Trade and Production, stated that without a good deal on agriculture, developing countries saw little benefit to the Round, the Free Trade in the Americas Negotiations or the EU-Mercosur talks. IPC Member Jorge Zorreguieta, former Secretary of Agriculture for Argentina, expressed concerns that the United States would not provide the strong leadership to produce meaningful results in the Doha Round. He went so far as to say that it would be better for the Round to fail than for developing countries to accept a poor deal on agriculture.
The IPC remains convinced that without strong US leadership in Geneva it will be very difficult to obtain an agricultural trade agreement that brings significant benefits to the developing countries, whose interests are at the center of the Doha Development Agenda. Unless the negotiations lead to increased market access for products of interest to developing countries, phased-out export subsidies and other forms of subsidized competition, and reduced trade-distorting domestic support, developing countries will have a hard time supporting an agricultural agreement. And, as Suzanne Vinet, Canadas Special Agricultural Trade Negotiator concluded, no agreement will move forward without the approval of developing countries.
The International Food and Agricultural Policy Council is dedicated to developing and advocating policies that support an efficient and open global food system, and that promote economically and environmentally sustainable production and distribution of safe, accessible food supplies to the worlds growing population. An independent group of leaders in food and agriculture from industrialized, developing and centrally planned economies, the IPCs thirty-five members have been chosen to ensure the Councils credible and impartial approach. Members are influential leaders with extensive experience in farming, agribusiness, government and academia. For further information and a list of IPC members, visit www.agritrade.org.
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