Pascal Lamy, the World Trade Organization director-general, says the U.S. Congress passed a bad farm bill, one that sends the wrong “signal.” If the authors of the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 needed any affirmation of their work, they don't have to look any farther.
Lamy, who long ago demonstrated his preference for protecting Europe's farmers at the expense of the rest of the world, told European Parliament members the farm bill is sending a signal U.S. government leaders are “not serious about reducing their subsidies.”
The 61-year-old diplomat, who spent most of his career as a bureaucrat in France, can be forgiven for feeling a little frustrated these days. The negotiations for a new WTO agreement, which began in Doha, Qatar, are now into their seventh year with no end in sight.
One reason little progress has been made is a succession of U.S. agriculture secretaries have been promising Lamy and other WTO officials that the United States would reduce their farm subsidies by 60 percent or more in the new farm bill.
Thus, the European Parliament, the 27-member European Union's governing body, and developing countries such as Brazil and India were led to believe all they had to do was wait for the U.S. Congress to “cave” on the farm bill, and they would get a new agreement without having to make more concessions.
Fortunately, leaders such as Reps. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., and Bob Etheridge, D-N.C., and Sens. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., refused to turn over the sovereignty of the U.S. government to the WTO.
When he spoke, Lamy appeared to be clinging to hope the Bush administration might still acquiesce to the demands from the EU, Brazil and India for a unilateral reduction in U.S. farm subsidies.
“The only chance you have to trump up this farm bill is a WTO deal, which will then necessitate a reform of the U.S. system,” he was quoted as saying by the Associated Press.
Free trade advocates will bemoan another missed opportunity to help the Doha Round negotiations. (Lamy said he hopes that progress will be made on two sticking points - agriculture and industrial goods - by the end of June.)
But U.S. farmers are increasingly questioning the benefits of the WTO, especially when its judges ignore the facts and rule against the United States as the WTO appellate body did June 2 in a compliance case brought by the government of Brazil against the U.S. cotton program.
According to National Cotton Council leaders, the WTO panel used out-dated and unrealistic information to affirm a decision that seemed - from the beginning - aimed at punishing the U.S. government for daring to try to protect its farmers.
If passage of the 2008 farm bill injects a dose of reality into the Doha Round negotiations, then the two-plus years it took to write the new law will have been time well spent.