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Alan Guebert is a professional freelance agricultural
journalist from Delavan, IL. He brings 22 years’
experience to his weekly investigations, reflections
and analysis of events that shape the ability
of farmers to farm profitably and independently.
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USTR boosts free trade agenda
Is U.S. Special Trade Representative Robert Zoellick ever
home long enough from his “free ag trade” missions
to take the pulse of American farmers on the topic?
If not, maybe he should schedule some serious face time with
American farm groups during the upcoming holiday season because
their once concrete backing of the White House’s global
ag trade policies has begun to crack.
Australia is a case in point.
On Nov. 14, Zoellick attended a World Trade Organization meeting
in Sydney Australia. The meeting, whose 24 other attendees
represented countries that constitute 80 percent of the world’s
ag trade, was to be “informal.” In other words,
a private, nothing-on-the-record discussion on how to move
WTO ag trade talks forward as a self-imposed March 2003 deadline
Australian Trade Minister Mark Vaile, however, raised the
ante before the trade masters of the universe set foot in
Sydney. Commenting on the Doha Round in general, Vaile said
the Sydney meeting would be crucial because no WTO talks would
move forward until there is “progress on agriculture.”
Taking his cue from Vaile, Zoellick immediately announced
that he had notified the U.S. Congress of White House plans
to start bilateral ag talks with the Aussies because American
farmers “had ended their opposition to free trade negotiations
between Australia and the U.S.”
That was news to most American farm groups; several took it
First, Zoellick--either by design or by mistake--wildly overstated
the farm groups’ tacit approval to talk trade with Australia.
Many groups, led by the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF),
had only endorsed “initiation” of the talks.
Most, however--including the AFBF--explained they had reserved
their right to reject any final deal if it requires a U.S.
ag policy overhaul. (Think big cuts in American ag subsidies.)
Others, like the packer-dominated National Cattlemen’s
Beef Association (NCBA) and the 300,000-member National Farmers
Union, openly chided Zoellick for even talking trade with
Australia. Both rightly fear that freer ag trade with Down
Under farmers would flood U.S. markets with even more cheap
beef, lamb, wool and sugar.
NCBA’s reaction was a shocker for Zoellick because it
all but owns USDA. Many former NCBA-ers are now USDA officials.
(They’re the ones carrying Secretary Veneman’s
handbag and whispering in both her right and left ears.)
Washington pundits quickly saw the NCBA-Zoellick spat as further
evidence USDA plays little to no part in formulating U.S.
farm trade policy; it’s a White House show all the way.
Additionally, they claim, Zoellick’s quick appeasement
of Australian free ag traders was the White House’s
way of getting Aussie support for its Iraq policy.
The latter is likely true. More troublesome, however, is the
former. If the White House continues to bypass USDA in pursuit
of more bilateral trade negotiations outside the WTO, American
farmers should prepare themselves for the day the White House
proposes cuts to the 2002 Farm Bill, the main stumbling block
in all U.S. ag trade talks.
duck congress limps home
The Second Session of the 107th Congress, including the
two-week, post-election lame duck session, slipped into the
history this week. It was a scene for the ages.
And for the aged: The U.S. Senate made special provisions
to permit 99-year-old--he’ll be 100 on Dec. 2--South
Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond to gavel the session to an end.
Thurmond now retires, his seat to be taken by Sen.-Elect Dole.
(No, not that Dole; the other Dole, wife Elizabeth.)
The two-year session provided farmers with high and low moments.
The high point? The 2002 Farm Bill. Through deft parliamentary
maneuvers, Congress boosted the amount of money available
to farm programs in 2001, then grabbed the money by writing
a New Farm® Bill one year early in 2002. Slick.
The low point? The 2002 Farm Bill. Working with a split personality--a
Democratic Senate and a Republican House--the final bill excluded
a competition title and any restrictions on packer-owned livestock.
Contrary to most perceptions, the 107th did not sit on it
hands for two years.
Good, bad or indifferent, it did pass Fast Track Trade Authority.
While most farmers believe Fast Track a necessary tool to
enhance U.S. ag exports, it virtually cuts farmers and USDA
out of the trade talk loop: No completed trade treaty can
be amended under Fast Track.
Congress also dispensed of the inheritance tax--universally
hated by farmers and land owners alike--when it passed a 10-year
tax cut plan in early 2001. Although Internal Revenue Service
figures show that fewer than 2,000 farmers pay inheritance
taxes each year, Republicans made flag-waving, yeoman farmers
the poster children to repeal the what they brilliantly labeled
as the “death tax.”
Most Congressional watchers predict the new Republican-controlled
108th Congress quickly will make the cut permanent when it
convenes next January.
In the waning days of the 107th, though, Congress failed to
act on the $5.9 billion drought assistance bill that passed
the Senate in September and it did not move the agreed-upon
Energy Bill to final passage. The Energy Bill contains the
much sought 5-billion-gallon ethanol mandate by 2012, effectively
quintupling the alternative fuel’s use nationwide.
Incoming Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott noted both ideas
will be considered in 2003. Consideration, it should be noted,
is not enactment. If either or both is enacted, expect Lott
to claim them as Republican victories.
In sum, the past session, despite all its partisan bickering,
showed bipartisan support for major ag legislation--a new
Farm Bill, a sweeping tax bill, Fast Track and a nearly-passed
said it . . .
Who said what? They said this.
-- David Wessel, columnist, The Wall Street Journal,
Nov. 21: “One Republican who has been in and
out of government over the past 20 years quips privately that
Mr. Bush’s economic policy lacks only two things: a
policy and someone to explain it.”
-- The American Farm Bureau Federation, Nov. 21:
“In AFBF's annual informal survey of the price
of basic items found on the Thanksgiving Day dinner table,
the average cost of this year's feast for 10 is $34.56, a
48-cent drop from last year's survey average of $35.04. It
marks only the second drop in average price since 1991.”
-- John Howard, Prime Minister, Australia, Nov. 14:
“I can assure you that we are not going to in any way
compromise or sell out the interests of Australian farmers
in the pursuit of a free trade agreement with the United States
-- Raymond Collit, Financial Times, London, Nov.
20: “Mr. Lula da Silva [newly-elected president
of Brazil] and many other Brazilians have been skeptical of
US intentions to reduce trade barriers and farm subsidies
that stifle their exports. While favoring frank talks to boost
trade, Aloizio Mercadante, a leading PT (ruling party) senator
and economic adviser, criticized US trade policy. "The
Americans always played tough and now they will face a government
that will play as tough as they do," he said.
-- Benjamin Franklin, Editor, Patriot, Beer Drinker,
Philadelphia: “Beer is proof that God loves
us and want us to be happy.”
Thanksgiving is not until next Thursday, but I can tell
you what will happen in our big, central Illinois house.
My parents will arrive on Wednesday afternoon carrying three
precious cargoes: Mom’s famous dressing, her even more
famous candied sweet potatoes and Paul, son of the lovely
Catherine and me and a first year law student at St. Louis
(“Dad,” he will tell me, “it’s really
stressful.” No doubt, I will I tell him; we call that
feeling by its rightful name, though--adulthood.)
Later the youngest of my four brothers and his family will
arrive. Christian is a VIG, very important guest; he will
bring the beer. (See the above quote from Benjamin Franklin.)
Thursday will bring 9 am church, 11 am Bloody Marys or champagne
or both, 1 pm dinner for the 36 who are invited and 3 pm naps
or Euchre-playing before another round of eating, drinking
and card-playing kicks off about 7 pm.
Friday will bring most everyone back--plus some of my fishing
pals--for my father’s annual fish fry. The menu will
be simple; crappie fillets, butter bread, pickles and beer.
Hey, dinner, like life, ain’t complicated if you’re
Saturday will bring good-byes. Mom and Dad back to southern
Illinois, Catherine’s family to other points in Illinois,
Paul to St. Louis and first semester finals. (“It’s
really going to be stressful,” he will say before leaving.)
But before Thursday’s feast begins, I will call all
into the dining room to remind them of how blessed we were
to enjoy the company of family friends who have passed away
since we last gathered. I will give thanks to Heaven for delivering
all the Gueberts and all the Watsons through illnesses and
travel, trouble and travails.
And then I’ll ask God to shower special blessings on
the good and wonderful people--you, and all farmers--who provided
the meal that will be central to our weekend of fellowship,
love and laughter.
Happy Thanksgiving. And remember what Franklin said.
THE FINAL WORD
15, 2002: New house
ag committee chair to be named; pork checkoff--the true
cost to farmers; and GM contamination--just a matter of
time before experimental crops end up on our dinner plates.
8, 2002: Thad Cochran to take farm policy reins
– how far will he go? Farmers make Londoners smile
– in the rain!
1, 2002: Chicken slaves, and honest talk from
Swiss ag leaders
GMO labelling and the European Union
© 2002 ag comm
The Final Word comes to you each Friday by special arrangement.
Alan Guebert's regular column, the Farm and Food File, is
published weekly in more than 70 newspapers around the US
and Canada. Contact him at AGuebert@worldnet.att.net.