The American Soybean Association and 15 other farm groups are asking the Bush administration to make sure nothing happens to water down “meaningful” market access provisions in any Doha Development Round agreement.

Writing to U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman and Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns, ASA, the National Cotton Council, USA Rice Federation and the other organizations said now is not the time to be easing up on the WTO's Doha negotiators.

The latter are working toward a deadline of April 30 for completing the modalities phase of the agreement. The so-called Group of six countries including the United States was scheduled to meet in London March 10-11 to try to help the talks along.

The U.S. farm groups said meaningful market access gains must be achieved for each of their export commodities, and that these gains must not be undercut by allowing countries to designate them as sensitive or special products exempt from the liberalized tariff schedules due July 31.

The groups also asked that developing countries with world-class export sectors — such as Brazil and China — face disciplines similar to those required of developed countries.

“We believe the current modalities phase of the negotiations, when the largest overall trade-offs are being negotiated, offers the best chance of achieving our objectives on these issues,” the letter said. “Unless these are addressed through specific measures in the modalities agreement, it may be impossible to successfully resolve them in the bilateral phase of negotiations.”

The current round of negotiations, which began in Doha, Qatar, in 2001, have been marked by increasing tension between developed and developing countries over farm subsidies and access to agricultural markets. OxFam International and other non-governmental organizations have portrayed U.S. cotton producers as the chief cause of African poverty, a charge U.S. industry leaders say is ludicrous.

The groups say the rhetoric has helped divert attention from the more substantive issues that could be resolved by a new Doha Round agreement.

“Our producers support reaching a final Doha Round agreement that continues the vital task of expanding world trade in agricultural commodities and products,” they said. “But a final agreement must require developing as well as developed countries to open key markets to U.S. agricultural exports without unfair or wholesale exemptions and restrictions. And it must bring the competitive export sectors of developing countries under disciplines similar to those our producers and industries face.”

Other organizations signing the letter: the American Sugar Alliance, National Association of Wheat Growers, National Cattlemen's Beef Association, National Corn Growers Association, National Sorghum Producers and the U.S. Rice Producers Association.

Why send such a letter now? Some farm groups are concerned that, in the rush to complete an agreement, the Bush administration might be willing to cut a last-minute deal that would reduce U.S. farm subsidies without requiring reduced tariffs in the European Union and other countries in return.

That would be a bad bargain, the groups are telling the administration.

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