It's been interesting to see the reaction to reports a WTO panel largely ruled in favor of the Brazilian complaint against the U.S. cotton program.
Cotton farmers are appalled that another country would attempt to dictate U.S. farm policy, especially one like Brazil that has stolen much of the technology it now uses to compete with U.S. growers.
If you don't think that's the case, go to a Brazilian farm and see how many American company seed bags and containers you see. Then there's the widespread planting of U.S.-developed Roundup Ready crops that supposedly were illegal in Brazil until recently.
Farm-state Congressmen criticized the ruling or the portions of it that have been leaked although the United States and Brazil agreed not to make it public until June 18.
As might be expected, the criticism has fallen along party lines with some members of Congress applauding the Bush administration's pledge to appeal the ruling and others blaming its inaction for allowing the complaint to proceed.
“What we're seeing here is the first step in an attempt to dismantle farm programs,” said Rep. Marion Berry, D-Ark. “Once the WTO ruling is final, we'll start hearing comments like ‘Well, we've got to be in compliance.’”
Others, including Rep. Charlie Stenholm, D-Texas, have said the ruling is just the first step in a long process that will likely see appeals that could delay the implementation, if any, of its provisions for years.
Interestingly, the National Cotton Council has generally had good things to say about the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative's team that has been arguing the U.S. case in hearings by the WTO panel in Geneva, Switzerland.
At the same time, the Council has little good to say about Daniel Sumner, a University of California economics professor, and Ken Cook, the president of the Environmental Working Group, who helped the Brazilians prepare their case.
The most interesting reaction has come from U.S. media outlets, which have had a field day pointing out that someone with quasi-official status has finally agreed with their editorials opposing U.S. farm programs.
“Lawmakers Voice Doom and Gloom on W.T.O. Ruling,” said a headline in the New York Times, which reported farm-state lawmakers had been “shaken by a preliminary ruling against the government's multi-billion-dollar subsidies to the cotton industry.”
The article quoted one lawmaker, Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., as saying the ruling could have “extraordinary consequences up and down every main street in rural America.” The only other reference was House Ag Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte's and Stenholm's statement that the ruling must be appealed.
One of the most biting articles was a commentary in Barron's Online: “American taxpayers have several billion reasons to cheer for Brazil as it challenges U.S. subsidies for cotton growers before the World Trade Organization, even if it means some agricultural jobs could be shifted overseas.”
Comments like that make you wonder just how far this country has come from its rural roots?
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