Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Saxby Chambliss says the president of France has a lot of nerve criticizing the U.S. cotton program while continuing to stand in the way of the WTO's efforts to complete the Doha Round negotiations.
Chambliss took a swipe at President Jacques Chirac after Chirac called on the United States to remove its subsidies to cotton farmers during an Africa-France Summit in the Malian capital, Bamako on Dec. 3. Mali is one of four African counties — along with Benin, Burkina Faso, and Chad — that claim U.S. subsidies hurt their farmers.
Chirac's comments came as representatives of the 148 members of the World Trade Organization prepared to meet in Hong Kong, Dec. 13-15, to finalize the Doha Development Agreement. Most observers say that has little chance of happening due to the intransigence of France and other European Union members.
“I find it rather shameless for French President Jacque Chirac to lecture the United States on farm subsidies while hiding behind the cloak of African poverty to shield European farmers from true reform, especially when Europe has four times the allowable level of support as the United States,” Chambliss said in a statement issued Dec. 6.
“We have waited more than two months for France and other members of the EU to come forward with a more ambitious proposal for the Doha Development Round. The Hong Kong ministerial could have achieved more, but the EU has stood in the way.”
The Republican senator from Georgia said attempts by WTO members to single out cotton for special treatment in a Doha agreement “will not find support in the United States Congress.”
But Chirac did just that in his comments at the Africa-France Summit. “We cannot accept a situation in which hasty and generalized liberalization of agriculture trade ruins the efforts of the least-developed nations,” Chirac was quoted as saying in a Reuters dispatch. “I call upon the United States to remove the subsidies to their cotton producers, as Europe has undertaken to do.”
Most Doha Round observers concede that EU member countries have reduced subsidies to their farmers, but they say the tariff reduction proposals offered by European Trade Minister Peter Mandelson last month fell far short of what's needed to help move the Doha Round forward.
Chambliss, who will be monitoring the Hong Kong Ministerial meeting from Washington, said he was not encouraged by the latest draft text issued by Mandelson in early December. (Several members canceled their travel plans because Congress is still expected to be in session.)
“The recent speech by Trade Minister Mandelson is particularly discouraging, calling upon the least developed countries of the world to further his protectionist aims,” said Chambliss. “Moreover, the continued focus on cotton without an underlying agreement on agriculture and substantial and meaningful market access commitments will not find support within the United States Congress.”
In hearings last September, Chambliss said he believed the United States has much to gain and lose in the Doha Round negotiations. “I also stated that the (Bush) administration should not accept a deal in Hong Kong unless it provides tangible and real rewards for our agricultural sector,” he noted. “In short, no deal is better than a bad deal.”
Any agreement must provide substantial improvement in real market access, provide greater harmonization in trade-distorting domestic support, eliminate export subsidies and provide greater certainty and predictability regarding potential litigation, he said.
“While it appears that the Hong Kong Ministerial will not agree to a set of modalities, it is my hope that discussions can continue in order to break the current impasse which is impossible without bolder moves by the Europeans on agriculture.”
Chambliss said he is especially concerned about developing country issues such as the calls by the Group of 20 countries led by Brazil for changes in U.S. farm programs without any discussion of broader, economic issues.
“We need comprehensive, across-the-board reform,” he said. “Cherry-picking specific commodities like the calls for an early harvest on cotton are unwise and threaten the larger objective. I will oppose any resolution of the cotton issue without first the conclusion of an underlying agriculture agreement.”
The United States has made good faith efforts to address the cotton issue with the Senate's action to repeal the Step 2 program, cuts in direct support to cotton producers as a result of the budget reconciliation process and the launch of the West Africa Cotton Improvement Program.
“These stand above anything the European Union has offered,” he noted. “In addition, private sector efforts are worthy contributions and should not be overlooked.”
Chambliss said any favorable outcome should focus on reducing barriers to trade and increasing demand for cotton. “If consumers in Japan and Western Europe consumed at the same level as in the United States, it would mean an additional demand of 20 million bales.
“In contrast, peer-reviewed analysis by researchers at Texas Tech University found that removal of domestic programs would increase world cotton prices by only 2 percent.”