Brazil's complaint to the World Trade Organization about the U.S. cotton program constitutes “the most serious, full-frontal assault on the U.S. farm program in our history.”

That's the position of Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., according to his assistant legislative director and homeland security advisor, Mike Syfert. Roberts, a member of the Agriculture Committee, also heads the Intelligence Committee.

“The senator feels this case has the potential for impact not only to cotton, but wheat, corn, sugar, peanuts, sorghum, soybeans — everything,” Syfert said at the joint meeting of the Cotton Foundation and the American Cotton Producers Association at Albuquerque, N.M.

“A lot of folks, I think, don't understand this. Once the translation of the decision comes out, I think a lot of farm organizations are going to be very surprised at the breadth of this case and what it can mean to everyone in agriculture.

“Mr. Roberts has said very unequivocally, if press reports are accurate that the decision is against the United States, that he intends to stand and fight against it. The Bush administration and Secretary (of Agriculture) Ann Veneman have said that, too. We're all going to do everything we can to try and beat it.”

Syfert says the senator and his legislative staff have also been closely following developments in the Doha round of trade negotiations, because of the import to cotton, export issues, Step 2, etc.

“We've been having to compete for a lot of years with the Europeans and their export subsidies, and we want to see reforms there. We also want to see reforms by the Canadian Wheat Board and the Australian Wheat Board, which are monopoly state trading enterprises. From what we've seen, it looks like we will get some reforms on those in the Doha round.

“We're also very concerned about GSM export credits. We've felt very strongly — particularly in 1998, 1999, and 2000, when we were going through some really low prices — that this program saved us. We move a large portion of our grains through this program.

“The Europeans and others have argued that the programs are just a dumping ground for our surplus commodities. We don't view it that way. We view it as a way to help hungry people in other countries to eat. If we don't donate these items, they don't eat; it's just that simple.”

Syfert says U.S. food aid programs can also help to counter some of the radicalism by Mideast groups who use food as a means of spreading their philosophies.

“If we can go in with our food aid programs, we can help to improve the standard of living of the people in these regions, give them a more realistic view of the United States, and enhance the stability of the area.”

In other trade issues, Syfert says Roberts objected to an exemption for sugar in the Australia Free Trade Agreement, because “he didn't feel we got a lot of reforms from the Australians that we'd been pushing for, including wheat.

“He said very loudly and very publicly his view that if we're going to be able to survive budget reconciliation and debate, and if the United States is going to get a fair shake out of these trade deals, we can't be exempting commodities or pitting them against each other. We're all in this together, and we need to fight this together and get through it.”

Sen. Roberts' perspective on agricultural supports and trade issues, Syfert says, is that “he'll support U.S. reforms as long as the rest of the nations do the same thing. But if they don't give anything, he contends we shouldn't give one inch.”

Looking at legislative issues, he says things “don't look good heading into next year, with the nation's budget deficit situation.” No budget has been passed this year, and with the expected near-even split in the Senate after the elections, it may be difficult to get one next year.

Still, Syfert says, Sen. Roberts is “100 percent for protecting the agriculture baseline. He was heavily involved in negotiations to get additional funding into the budget for the 2002 farm bill.”

Spending under that bill “hasn't been to the level that was projected when it was passed,” he notes. “The senator suggests that everyone needs to start thinking now — sooner rather than later — about the possibility of a budget reconciliation process next year: How we're going to explain to the Budget Committee that prices are a little higher than where they were expected to be, we don't have a lot we can cut out of the baseline right now, we haven't spent as much as we thought we were going to, and that agriculture needs some credit for that.

“He's committed to protecting that baseline, and we're optimistic we can do that,” Syfert says.


e-mail: hbrandon@primediabusiness.com