Farm groups: Scale back Doha if talks falter

WTO negotiators are now more than a month behind on meeting an April 30 deadline for an agreement on “modalities” or a formal blueprint for resolving the remaining issues in the Doha Development Agenda.

As pressure mounts for WTO members not to miss another deadline — on July 31 — farm organizations and congressional leaders are urging the Bush administration to refuse demands it give more ground in the talks.

Several of the nation’s largest farm organizations wrote President Bush June 1, expressing concern and reminding him the administration has promised it will not make more concessions unless the European Union and other countries provide greater market access.

“American agriculture will not support deeper cuts in domestic support,” their letter said. “Reductions in, and limitations on, domestic support for U.S. agriculture are only acceptable if the negotiations yield an important net gain through commitments on market access and other trade-distorting policies.”

The letter said the groups, which include the American Farm Bureau and the cotton, corn, dairy, rice, soybean, sugar and wheat organizations, want the administration to scale back proposed cuts in farm subsidies if such commitments are not forthcoming.

Last October, U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman proposed reducing U.S. farm program payments by 60 percent to try to get the Doha talks, which were floundering then as well, back on track.

“At this point, however, it seems clear other countries have ‘pocketed’ the U.S. offer on domestic support without being prepared to even come close to the U.S. proposal on increasing market access,” the letter said.

In recent sessions in Geneva, European Union negotiators have said they would reduce tariffs on farm goods by more than the 39 percent they had previously said, but not by the 54 percent demanded by the G-20 developing countries — if the United States would make more cuts in its farm subsidies.

The maneuver prompted strong responses from Deputy Trade Representative Susan Schwab and from Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

“The United States has put an ambitious and balanced offer on the table,” said Chambliss. “To this date, the Europeans have not met our offer in kind. In fact, EU Trade Commissioner Mandelson believes the U.S. needs to sweeten our offer on domestic support in return for a less than adequate market access package.

“The United States offer on domestic support must be calibrated to reflect the market access offers on the table or a final agreement will not pass the U.S. Congress. Incremental adjustments from “the Europeans on a market access offer that already falls far short won’t do it.

Schwab said the United States remains convinced its October 2005 proposal would truly open markets. “We are still looking for as meaningful and real a response from others — both developed and advanced developing countries — on agricultural market access.”

The letter and Chambliss’ statement appear aimed at giving the administration cover in the ongoing talks. If so, they are timely.

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