After a few tough months at home – falling poll numbers, staying at Rancho del Lazio while New Orleans flooded, Harriet “Who?” Miers – the Bush Administration sought to get its mojo working again by dropping an agricultural trade bomb in Geneva Oct. 10.
And, a bomb it was.
Proposal. In a closed-door meeting with some of global agriculture’s biggest players, U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman offered to cut American farm subsidies 60 percent in five years if other major ag players like the European Union and Japan lowered their ag import tariffs 55 percent to 90 percent.
In short, explained Portman to the slack-jawed group, the United States was “offering real cuts to U.S. farmers in exchange for market access” to other nations’ dinner plates.
Well, not exactly.
Some of the proposed cuts, as many trade watchers quickly pointed out, were more like a shell game: Portman proposed to move the 2002 Farm Bill’s counter-cyclical payments from one trade-distorting box – amber – to another less trade-distorting box – blue. (It’s a slick move, but a move the World Trade Organization has already ruled illegal.)
Response. If Portman and the White House hoped to create buzz with the offer, they succeeded – especially with the truest believers in the amen corner of American ag policy.
The American Farm Bureau called the Oct. 10 proposal “bold action”; the National Pork Producers Council labeled it “ambitious.”
Others in the usually harmonious bunch, however, kept their eyes on the pea. They saw the sleight of hand and reacted swiftly.
The American Soybean Association called Portman’s idea a “credible signal.” Then, with Luther-like nerve, it informed trade pope Portman that his deal didn’t deal with the “81 percent of the world’s population” now living in “developing countries
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