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Growing Dilemmas

Ruth's picture

While most of our farmers would really disagree if told they were being pampered, it is the U.S. policy of subsidies that has caused World Trade talks to break down again this morning.

Our subsidies are presently being protected from scrutiny which Canada has requested, accusing the U.S. of exceeding its commitments to WTO for many years.

The U.S. blocked a World Trade Organization investigation of its agricultural subsidies Wednesday, delaying a Canadian complaint that U.S. payments to farmers exceeds WTO rules.

According to the Geneva-based trade body's rules, a panel's establishment can be blocked only once.

Canada alleges that the United States has exceeded in six of the last eight years the $19.1 billion it is permitted to spend on the most contentious forms of agricultural subsidies. Canada also accuses the U.S. of offering export credit guarantees in breach of WTO rules.

Ottawa accuses Washington of exceeding its WTO commitments in 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004 and 2005 by an average of $5 billion per year.

It said the highest single-year payments amounted to over $27 billion.

The figures are higher than any previously estimated on U.S. payments to American farmers that fall under WTO's "amber box" -- the most trade-distorting form of subsidies. They include direct payments linked to distribution, export credits, marketing assistance loans and price guarantees.

In Geneva, the developing world insists that the dominant trade nations must allow their agricultural imports to exist. An example that has much pervaded international news recently is the subsidization of our cotton growers to eliminate completely the cotton produced in the impoverished African nations.

Talks between trade powers to salvage global trade talks collapsed on Thursday, throwing the future of the World Trade Organisation's struggling round deeper into doubt.

Ministers from the United States and the European Union (EU), representing rich nation interests, and Brazil and India, for the developing world, were quick to blame the other side for the failure.
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Washington has demanded that any deal that significantly cuts U.S. farm subsidies must open new export markets around the world in agriculture, manufacturing and services.

But Brazil and India said Washington was not prepared to go far enough to warrant additional concessions on their part in manufacturing goods or in lowering barriers to imports of U.S. farm goods.

The weather disasters, such as the one that today has our local North Texas and Oklahoma farmers viewing a ruined wheat crop which promised to be the best in many years, are tragic and mind-numbing.

And as Xan anticipated with dread, the price of corn is going down as farmers rush into producing it because of the reports that ethanol production is making it the new oil boom.

What if I had worked all year at something and now couldn't collect a penny for it? That's the sort of discouragement a farmer faces on a regular basis, and in a farming community everyone's livelihood is affected. We all can feel for them. The grinding poverty of the continent of Africa, though, has been subsidized by our support for our own farm communities.

I can't say it's terrible to help out our own farmers. When we are sacrificing our other workers to the globalization ethic, though, it seems mighty lopsided that we can support one economic area but blithely pitch another one into the briarpatch.

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