To borrow a line from the late Johnny Paycheck's working man's anthem, “Take the WTO and shove it.”
That sums up the American cotton industry's reaction to reports that the U.S. has lost to Brazil in a World Trade Organization dispute over American farm policy.
You can add the University of California and its infamous economist Dan Sumner to “WTO” as far as California Cotton Ginners and Growers Associations president Earl Williams is concerned. Sumner hired on as a Brazilian hired gun in the dispute against his own country. So far the UC has chosen to ignore the concerns expressed by several segments of California agriculture about what Sumner did, classifying it as academic freedom on Sumner's own time. Some have called Sumner's action as “economic treason.”
It may not very diplomatic to talk like that about a college professor, a prestigious university and the WTO. However, American agriculture has had its fill of WTO and those who support it.
It is an organization chartered to create a level playing field for world trade. It has not accomplished that for American agriculture and frustration with that failure boiled over with the cotton ruling favoring Brazil.
There is nothing level about worldwide tariffs averaging 26 percent for U.S. ag products while it is only 12 percent for ag products imported into the U.S. It is even more ludicrous to watch Brazil continue to expand cotton production while complaining American farm policy reduces world cotton prices.
No one was really surprised that a three-member panel made up of an Australian, Pole and Chilean ruled against the U.S. What is surprising is the disdain for the WTO process. Congressional leaders have made it very clear that a three-judge panel from an organization with about as much bite as a toothless Chihuahua is not going to dictate U.S. farm policy. There were a lot of gyrations at the federal level to make the last farm bill WTO friendly. Now three people from countries which have openly expressed their dislike for American farm policy say it is not. What is the point of playing the WTO game when the rules are ever changing?
World trade has never been more vital to not only the U.S. cotton industry but to virtually every segment of American agriculture. The anti-WTO sentiments boiling over are not isolationism or protectionism. It is frustration clearly explained in Southwest Farm Press by Steve Verett, executive director of Plains Cotton Growers in Lubbock, Texas and a Texas High Plains cotton farmer:
“We've been working with the WTO for 10 or 15 years now, and it's a pipe dream to believe that countries can come together in one big world court, hold hands and sing Cum Ba Yah.
“Reality indicates that WTO has not been successful. We have not been able to negotiate a deal through the organization.”
The U.S. would be better off cutting deals through bilateral or regional trade agreements.
The truth is developing nations want U.S. agriculture to disappear from world trade, and they are using the WTO to try and accomplish that.
American farmers and ranchers are the most efficient and reliable suppliers of food and fiber in the world. The world needs American agriculture more than most of the world and certainly WTO realizes.