Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley says tying a one-year extension of the 2002 farm bill to a similar one for trade promotion authority for President Bush might be just the ticket for helping achieve some progress in the Doha Round negotiations.
With the WTO talks almost certain to miss an April 30 deadline for an agreement on modalities, Grassley said he thought combining a one-year extension of the farm bill with a similar extension for trade promotion authority “would be a very good thing to do.” (TPA allows the president to submit trade agreements for a no-debate, up-or-down vote in Congress.
WTO negotiators have been attempting to meet April 30 and July 31 deadlines for completing key phases of the agreement so they can wrap up their work by the end of this year. That would allow President Bush to submit the pact to Congress before his trade promotion authority expires next July.
Because of last year’s close vote on the Central American Free Trade Agreement, political analysts say the no-amendment, up-or-down vote required under trade promotion authority provisions is the only way a new Doha Round agreement will pass Congress.
Grassley is expected to play a key role in the passage of any new trade agreement because such legislation must be referred to the Senate Finance Committee, which he chairs. The Iowa Republican has already said he will oppose any pact that does not include “meaningful” market access provisions for U.S. agricultural products.
He discussed the outlook for the Doha Round negotiations during a speech at the Agribusiness Club of Washington April 24.
“There’s been a bit of talk on Capitol Hill of combining a one-year extension of the farm bill with a one-year extension of trade promotion authority,” said Grassley. “Do I think we’re better off with a one-year extension? If we could get trade promotion authority and get an agreement, the answer is yes.”
Representatives Collin Peterson, D-Minn., and Jim Costa, R-Calif., have introduced legislation that would extend the 2002 farm bill one to two years beyond its current Sep. 30, 2007, expiration date if WTO negotiators have not produced an agreement by the end of 2006.
But their proposal did not appear to have the support of the majority until a few days before Grassley’s speech. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns and other administration officials have opposed any extension because they clearly want to overhaul the current farm bill.
Last November, former U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman tabled a proposal at the WTO that would reduce U.S. crop subsidies by 60 percent. He and Johanns said the cuts were aimed at trying to get the Doha talks back on track.
But the proposal also triggered letters from Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., and Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., chairmen of the Senate and House agriculture committees, reminding Portman that Congress will write any legislation that changes U.S. farm programs.
Senate Agriculture Committee members have been lukewarm to any farm bill extension.
“Sen. Chambliss might consider a short-term extension if a new Doha Agreement was near at hand,” said Vernie Hubert, chief counsel for the Senate Agriculture Committee, who spoke at a BASF-sponsored Issues Forum in Washington April 25. “But he is committed to writing a new farm bill in 2007.”
Sen. Grassley, who also serves on the Agriculture Committee, said he believes bipartisan support can be found for an extension, primarily to protect the baseline spending levels in the current law. The odds for passage in the five months remaining before the November mid-term elections, he said, are slim. “It seemed to me as probably something that would come up early in 2007,” he said.
Analysts say tying the farm bill and trade promotion authority together makes sense because Congress is more likely to pass a farm bill than to renew trade promotion authority, which passed by one vote when it last came up for renewal in 2001.
In his remarks at the Agribusiness Club luncheon, Grassley said he was disappointed the European Union and developing countries such as Brazil and India have not come forward with proposals in response to the U.S. offer to reduce its subsidies by 60 percent.
Reports from Brussels said EU trade officials appeared to react strongly to the talk of a new push for a farm bill extension in Washington.
Peter Mandelson, the European Union’s trade commissioner, was quoted as saying that if Congress extended the farm bill, “it would throw the whole Doha Round negotiations into doubt.”