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September 15, 2003   Email to Friend 

WTO TALKS STRUGGLE TO COMPLETTION
Debra Davis
(334) 613-4686
September 15, 2003

Representatives of several U.S. farm organizations went to Cancun over the weekend to attend the embattled World Trade Organization talks at which officials struggled to find some common ground for agricultural trade reform.

Representatives of the National Corn Growers Association who attended the meetings agreed the success of the negotiations would be measured on how far developed and developing countries compromise. The conference, slated to conclude Sunday, could be extended if negotiators were close to an agreement by early this week.

At the center of debate in Cancun is a new framework for an agreement governing the international trade of agricultural products. Agriculture is considered by many as the linchpin of the negotiations. "The United States and the European Union are under increasing pressure to open up their markets and lower domestic subsidies," said Fred Yoder, NCGA president.

Developing countries such as Brazil, India, Burkina Faso and others are targeting commodities such as sugar and cotton. In addition, corn has been under attack by other non governmental organizations like OXFAM as a main culprit for the plight of poor farmers worldwide. For example, OXFAM, a voluntary organization based in Great Britain whose mission is to work with other to overcome poverty, released a report entitled "Dumping Without Borders - How U.S. agricultural policies are destroying the livelihoods of Mexican corn farmers" two weeks ago with the hope of putting developed countries on the defensive prior to the start of the negotiations.

"Unfortunately, OXFAM has its facts wrong and uses data that misleads the reader and glosses over the glaring fact that Mexico subsidizes its farmers at a higher rate than the United States," said Dee Vaughan, NCGA president-elect. "The conclusions of the report fail to acknowledge the underlying causes of poverty in Mexico. In fact, Mexican corn framers grow white corn for food while U.S. corn producers predominantly grow yellow corn for feed markets. In addition, the report fails to acknowledge the benefits resulting from cross border trade by providing Mexican livestock producers with an inexpensive input that results in lower food costs for consumers in Mexico," continued Vaughan.

The United States is committed to helping developing countries and the National Corn Growers Association supports the U.S. negotiation position. "We believe the Doha Round can be successful, but only if all sides recognize the need to compromise," concluded Yoder.

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL reported that as the talks drew to the official close, ministers were busy trying to rescue some agreement even as vast differences remained over subsidies in rich countries and how deeply developing countries should reduce tariffs. On what was meant to be the last day of a five-day summit of the World Trade Organization, ministers labored round the clock over a draft compromise put forward Saturday that left nearly everyone angry, most of all developing countries, according to the WSJ.

WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell said, "it will be impossible to reach agreement.'' Countries nonetheless appeared ready to forge ahead with talks that could spill into today (Monday) or even longer.

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association's Chief Economist Gregg Doud also attended the Cancun meetings. For cattle producers, a key priority during these negotiations is working towards increased market access for U.S. beef and beef products.

Unfortunately, the draft proposal does not measure up to the U.S. market access proposal, nor meet NCBA's needs for market access, said NCBA. NCBA was working one-on-one with officials and hoped to come close to finalizing a framework for the modalities, but officials realized this would be an ongoing effort.

Leaders of the National Farmers Union attending the meetings in Cancun said the interests of family farmers and ranchers were not being given priority consideration. The NFU delegation was led by the organization's vice president, Alan Bergman.

"While the potential for positive developments remains, we believe the direction things are heading in these negotiations is the wrong one for family farmers. It seems to us that governments remain focused on a race to the bottom when it comes to these talks' effects on farm prices and income," Bergman said

In meetings with other farm leaders, NFU emphasized that farmers around the world will judge this WTO round by what it does to farm prices and farm income. NFU has been working with Dr. Daryll Ray of the University of Tennessee to explore options for future trade talks, which would focus on stabilizing farm income, mitigating world hunger and saving national governments money.

Ray, who heads the university's Agriculture Policy Analysis Center said such a framework is possible, but it would take a major change in thinking on the part of governments. "The current international consensus for food and agricultural policy fails to provide adequate market returns for farmers, favors multinational agribusinesses, increases public cost and still fails to help feed the hungry," Ray said.


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