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NFU Trade Panel: Agriculture Must Be a Priority

(Monday, March 3, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- From a press release.

Contact: Laura Johnston, (703) 597-1824, nfudclj@sso.org

ANAHEIM, Calif., (March 3, 2003) — Trade negotiators place a low priority on agriculture. When negotiators do address agriculture, they are more likely to represent the interests of the industry rather than individual producers. That was the general opinion of panelists speaking to National Farmers Union members attending the organization’s 101st anniversary convention.

“It’s like our tax code. If you’ve got a good attorney, you come out a winner,” said Joaquin Contente, president of California Farmers Union.

John Hansen, president of Nebraska Farmers Union, explained that processors use international organized efforts to drive prices lower. The agricultural industry uses a political strategy to play one commodity against another. “It’s this whole divide and conquer strategy. You need to develop a broad-based coalition,” Hansen added. That coalition needs to include producers of all commodities, and from all nations, he said.

“Agriculture is the most explosive piece of the World Trade Organization. That’s probably because it’s the newest piece of WTO,” said John Stencel, president of Rocky Mountain Farmers Union. Stencel said NFU believes trade agreements must assure global food security and safety, and enhance farm income.

“If this round of the WTO is to do any good, it has to improve farm income everywhere. We don’t want to sacrifice farmers in any country on the so-called altar of comparative advantage,” noted Robert Carlson, president of North Dakota Farmers Union. Carlson said farmers and ranchers will be directly effected by WTO agreements that focus on the following areas: eliminating export subsidies, improving market access by reducing tariffs, and cutting funding for domestic farm programs.

Hansen said U.S. trade negotiators have tremendous power to effect change. “The world of trade policy is riddled with technical terms and concepts. A world here or there makes an awful lot of difference over how it plays out. We continue to give up advantage.”

Carlson agreed. Trade negotiators are trained as economists, he said. “It becomes a question of policy. Is food security important, then trade policies must allow nations to support their own producers.”

U.S. trade negotiators need to represent farmers and ranchers, according to the panelists. They vowed to continue pressuring the Bush Administration and Congress to remind trade negotiators of whose interests they actually represent.