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Commodity organizations push for reform in WTO negotiations
By JANE HOUIN
Ohio Correspondent

ST. LOUIS, Mo. — With World Trade Organization talks on the horizon, several agricultural commodity groups issued a letter outlining farmer concerns and critical issues that must be addressed in the upcoming WTO talks for them to be considered successful by the agricultural community.

The letter to U.S. Trade Rep. Robert Portman and USDA Secretary Mike Johanns emphasized the top concerns of farmers and ranchers during the current phase of negotiations.

“We believe the current modalities phase of the negotiations, when the largest overall trade-offs are being negotiated, offers perhaps the best chance of achieving our objectives on these critical issues,” the letter stated. “Unless these issues are addressed through specific measures in the modalities agreement, we are concerned that it may be impossible to successfully resolve them in the subsequent bilateral phase of negotiations.”

Signed by 16 agricultural commodity organizations, the letter stated that meaningful market access gains must be gained for each of their commodities, and that these gains must not be undercut by allowing countries to designate them as Sensitive Products of Special Products, or through the Special Safeguard Mechanism.

The groups also asked that developing countries with world-class export sectors face disciplines similar to those required of developed countries.

“On behalf of U.S. soybean growers, ASA (American Soybean Assoc.) is challenging the administration to attain a comprehensive modalities agreement in the WTO negotiations,” said ASA President Bob Metz, a soybean producer from West Browns Valley, S.D. “Addressing these critical issues in the next few months is key to the successful conclusion of the overall Doha round.”

Commodity organizations who joined the ASA in signing the letter included the American Sugar Alliance, National Assoc. of Wheat Growers, National Barley Growers Assoc., National Cattleman’s Beef Assoc., National Chicken Council, National Corn Growers Assoc., National Cotton Council, National Milk Producers Federation, National Pork Producers Council, National Sorghum Producers, U.S. Canola Assoc., USA Dry Pea and Lentil Council, USA Rice Federation, U.S. Rice Producers Assoc. and Wheat Export Trade Education Committee.

“Our producers very much support reaching a final Doha Round agreement that continues the vital task of expanding world trade in agricultural commodities and products,” the groups stated. “But a final agreement must require developing as well as developed countries to open key markets to U.S. agricultural exports without unfair or wholesale exemptions and restrictions. And it must bring the competitive export sectors of developing counties under disciplines similar to those our producers and industries face.”

Agricultural negotiations began in early 2000 under Article 20 of the WTO Agriculture Agreement. By November 2001 and the Doha Ministerial Conference, 121 governments had submitted a large number of negotiating proposals. Negotiations will continue, but now with the mandate given by the Doha Declaration, which also includes a series of deadlines. The framework was agreed to in August 2004. The deadline that was originally Jan. 1, 2005, has now unofficially been pushed to the end of 2006 as part of a single undertaking.

The Doha declarations reconfirms the long-term objective already agreed to in the present WTO Agreement: to establish a fair and market-oriented trading system though a program of fundamental reform encompassing strengthened rules and specific commitments on government support and protection for agriculture. The purpose is to correct and prevent restrictions and distortions in world agricultural markets.

The declaration makes special and differential treatment for developing countries integral throughout the negotiations, both in countries’ new commitments and in any relevant new or revised rules and disciplines; it says the outcome should be effective in practice and enable developing countries to meet their needs, in particular in food security and rural development.

Last week, in separate negotiations, U.S. and Colombian negotiators reached an agreement allowing several farm exports to the South American country to immediately receive duty-free treatment.

“Opening the Columbian market and increasing our two-way trade will strengthen our economic ties and also promote increased stability that will benefit all the nations of the Western Hemisphere,” said Johanns. “Columbia is our second largest agricultural market in Latin America, currently accounting for $677 million in sales of wheat, coarse grains, cotton and soybeans, among others. As many products from Colombia already enter the U.S. duty-free under the Andean Trade Preference Act, this agreement will help to level the playing field for our producers by eliminating tariffs and non-tariff barriers for U.S. agricultural products.

Beef, wheat, soybean meal and apples are among the products that will be exported to Columbia duty-free. Pork, corn, poultry, fruits and vegetables and dairy products are expected to benefit from improved market access.

This farm news was published in the March 8, 2006 issue of Farm World.

3/8/2006