Monday, November 21, 2005

Launching a crop war!

The WTO will meet once again in three short weeks in Hong Kong. One of the items on the agenda is the pursuit of an agreement to reduce tariffs and subsidies on agricultural products in order to more fully open the international market. Brazil, Argentina and many of the African nations have been persuaded by Europe and the US to open their markets to US products but haven't seen similar action from these blocs that heavily subsidize their own farmers. These developing markets are now refusing further action until they see some compromise from their American and European neighbors, which is exactly what they'll be demanding Dec. 13-18 in Hong Kong.

The event is splashed across the economic pages of the leading journals, but what is striking in some of the reporting is the imagery of warfare:
While negotiators hammer away at the complexities of global farm trade a legalistic morass of budgetary "boxes" colored amber, red, green and blue — soybean farmers in Iowa and cattle ranchers in Texas ponder the impact on their bottom lines.
You'd think we had a threat alert for soybeans and corn.

"We have to be extremely careful not to support reducing price supports for false access or limited access," says Kirk Leeds, chief executive officer of the Iowa Soybean Association. "We're not going to unilaterally disarm if we don't see similar reductions in Europe."
This sounds suspiciously close to my childhood when my brother and I used to shoot soybeans at each other on the farm. It was our own little commodities war and we kept them in our pockets as well as in colored boxes. But I don't ever remember him asking me to unilaterally disarm. I guess we were just too bellicose; nobody ever told us we could enter into negotiations. Do you think this is what the trade talks are all about? Just a bunch of adults in one big bean shoot-out!?

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