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USDA Secy Says Trade Issues Crucial To 2007 Farm Bill

by 5m Editor
4 December 2006, at 12:12pm

US - After negotiations between the U.S. and the World Trade Organization fell apart, the 2007 Farm Bill currently being crafted will be more important than ever for American farmers, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said Thursday.

Exports brought in $77 billion to U.S. farmers in 2005, accounting for one-quarter of all cash receipts. Therefore, striking the right balance between trade and subsidies to farmers is crucial, Johanns told the Kentucky Farm Bureau's annual convention in Louisville.

"That's what we put at risk if we don't do this right," Johanns said. "I wouldn't be doing my job ... if I put in a policy that jeopardized $1 billion of your business."

Johanns, a former Nebraska governor, spoke to a full room of farmers, telling stories of his background growing up on an Iowa dairy farm and running a farm state for six years before being appointed agriculture secretary in January 2005. Those experiences, Johanns said, give him a good feel for the problems confronting farmers and how the next farm bill will affect them.

The U.S. exports large amounts of what it grows -- 80% of all cotton is shipped out of the country, as well as 50% of rice, 75% of all cattle hides and one-third of soybeans and corn, Johanns said. That's why U.S. negotiators were careful at the WTO talks over the summer, Johanns said.

Trade liberalization talks at the WTO broke down in July over differences between members, particularly the U.S. and the 25-nation European Union, about how and by how much to cut farm subsidies and tariffs, as well as reducing barriers to the import of manufactured goods.

"We did not see an agreement that we could bring back ... and say it was a good deal," Johanns said.

On top of that, the WTO is conducting a formal investigation into whether the U.S. has complied with a ruling to scrap a series of illegal subsidies paid to American cotton growers.

Washington had blocked a previous request from Brazil for the WTO to investigate U.S. compliance with a 2005 decision that said billions of dollars in U.S. government handouts had unfairly distorted international cotton prices.

If the WTO finds the U.S. has failed to remove all subsidies previously ruled illegal, Brazil could ask for permission to impose retaliatory sanctions against U.S. goods.

The majority of farmers -- about 60% -- are specialty farmers who don't receive any government subsidies because they don't grow crops within the program, Johanns said. Their voices need to be heard as the farm bill is written so that their concerns can be heard when trade talks are renewed,
Johanns said.

"We need to open more markets and open more opportunities for our agricultural commodities," Johanns said.

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