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WTO negotiators reach last-minute deal; Other news

(Sunday, Dec. 18, 2005 -- CropChoice news) --

1. WTO negotiators reach last-minute deal
2. Two farmers, two worlds, two outlooks on tariffs and global trade
3. Poor nations unite at trade talks
4. WTO talks open amid food aid tension
5. WTO: ‘Importing Food is Importing Unemployment'
6. Nebraska corporate farming ban ruled down
7. Corn is latest battleground in U.S.-Canada trade war
8. Conference looks at next step in hunt for new fuels
9. The dangers of agroterrorism
10. Too many homes on the range
11. ETC Group releases new report on corporate power, Oligopoly, Inc. 2005

1. WTO negotiators reach last-minute deal

By FOSTER KLUG, Associated Press Writer

Trade negotiators hammered out a last-minute compromise on a date for wealthy nations to end farm export subsidies, a support system which poor nations say puts them at a competitive disadvantage.

The breakthrough at the World Trade Organization meeting will likely avert a collapse in talks that could have seriously crippled the organization's ability to promote global free trade.

Outside the meeting, about 1,000 anti-WTO demonstrators marched through downtown Hong Kong, a day after hundreds of protesters were arrested in one of the city's worst spasms of street violence in decades.

The demonstrators chanted "Sink WTO" as trade ministers from around the globe wrapped up six days of negotiations. The protesters claim that the WTO's attempts to open up markets benefit big companies and the rich at the expense of ordinary workers and the poor.

The tentative agreement, coming after all-night negotiations, calls for wealthy countries to eliminate farm export subsidies by 2013. It paves the way for a modest agreement to cut trade barriers across various sectors, according to a copy of the final draft obtained by journalists.

The draft was to be submitted for approval by all 149 WTO member nations and territories later Sunday. Since the WTO is a consensus-based organization, an objection by even one member could torpedo a final deal.

But delegates appeared to be moving toward agreement.

Foreign Minister Celso Amorim of Brazil, which led the developing nations at the meeting, said the draft was "reasonable" and expressed hope it would be adopted by all WTO members.

India's Trade Minister Kamal Nath also welcomed the compromise.

"It is focused and it strikes at various problems of developing countries," he said.

The 2013 date was a key demand of the 25-nation European Union, which held out against intense pressure from Brazil and other developing nations to phase out many of its farm export subsidies by 2010. Developing nations say the government farm payments to promote exports undercut the competitive advantage of poor farmers.

EU trade chief Peter Mandelson said the final draft of WTO agreement is "acceptable."

The revised text also sets April 30, 2006, as a new deadline to work out formulas for cutting farm and industrial tariffs and subsidies — a key step toward forging a sweeping global free trade treaty by the end of next year.

But the draft reflects a far less ambitious agreement than WTO negotiators had originally hoped to achieve in Hong Kong: a detailed outline for a global free trade agreement that the WTO hopes to forge by the end of 2006, concluding the current round of development-oriented trade talks that began in 2001 in Doha, Qatar.

The draft agreement noted "the compelling urgency of seizing the moment and driving the process to a conclusion as rapidly as possible. We must maintain momentum. You don't close divergences by taking time off to have a cup of tea," it said.

"To meet this challenge and achieve this goal, we must act decisively and with real urgency," the text said.

The final draft also calls on wealthy nations to allow duty-free and quota-free privileges to at least 97 percent of products exported by the so-called least developed countries by 2008.

In a victory for West African cotton-producing nations, the text retained an earlier proposal that rich countries eliminate all export subsidies on cotton in 2006.

It also represents a concession by the United States, a major cotton exporter. U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman had said the proposal would be a hard sell to U.S. lawmakers. Cotton growers in Burkina Faso, Benin, Chad and Mali say the U.S. farm aid drives down prices, making it impossible for small family farms to compete in international markets.

The Group of 20, a coalition of developing nations headed by Brazil and India, said it was prepared to accept the draft's proposals on agricultural trade.

Portman was noncommittal, saying he had concerns about the final draft but hoped to end up with an acceptable version.

"Some members have concerns as we do, but in the end there is an overriding need to come together and work out our differences so I'm hopeful we can do that," Portman said as he headed from his hotel to the convention center after reading the draft.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong security forces braced for more fighting and chaos. Some 900 demonstrators, among them many South Korean farmers, were arrested after they went on a rampage Saturday evening, attacking police with bamboo poles and barricades and trying to break into a building. Police scattered them with tear gas and seized control of the area.

Such large-scale violence is rare in this stable Asian financial capital. The last time the city saw such a melee was during 1967 riots aimed at usurping British colonial rule. Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997.

Sunday's procession was led by Hong Kong activists, who held a giant red banner saying "Oppose WTO." The protesters included Thai and Filipino migrant workers along with Japanese farmers.

Some of marchers were South Korean farmers who carried cardboard signs saying, "Hong Kong government quickly release our comrades!"1.

2. Two farmers, two worlds, two outlooks on tariffs and global trade

By Monte Reel and Molly Moore
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, December 18, 2005; A26

MERCEDES, Uruguay -- On a balmy afternoon early last week, Guillermo Symonds watched his team of 13 farmhands saddle their horses for the daily roundup of the 5,500 rust-and-white Hereford beef cattle on his 13,000-acre ranch in western Uruguay.

Across the globe, on the same afternoon in the blustery Burgundy region of central France, Jean-Pierre and Brigitte Fleury sat next to their living room fireplace eating Savoy cake as they monitored their 360 white Charolais beef cattle on television via video cameras in nearby barns.

The prospect of giving large ranches such as Symonds' Uruguayan operation greater access to French dinner tables terrifies the Fleurys. Their 670-acre farm -- which ranks in size among the top 10 percent of French beef farms -- is a mere one-twentieth the size of Symonds' spread.

"We know we're not competitive," said Jean-Pierre Fleury, 52, a third-generation farmer. "The flip side is that French farmers have not only an agricultural role, but a social role. I can't think of any other country where the relationship with food is as strong as it is here."

France's romanticized view of its farmers has helped make the nation one of the most protected agricultural economies in the world. However, at a World Trade Organization meeting now underway in Hong Kong, France and other European nations are facing pressure to slash farm subsidies and open their markets to foreign competitors. The European Union has balked, and many of the 149 WTO member countries -- especially agricultural exporters from the developing world, such as Uruguay -- blame Europe for an impasse on a global trade accord.

Back on their farms, Jean-Pierre Fleury and Guillermo Symonds represent opposing sides in the agricultural wars being fought in the meeting chambers thousands of miles from their pastures and barns.

In the spring and summer in France's Burgundy region, Fleury's white Charolais cattle graze in rolling pastures framed by manicured hedgerows. The orange tile roofs of the nearby hamlet of La Mer poke above the tree line at the end of one field.

For Fleury, who has the permanently ruddy cheeks of an outdoorsman, the postcard landscape is as much a part of farming as the marbled Charolais steaks he produces for the country's most discerning butchers. He thinks France and its European neighbors should pay for both, with subsidies that allow him to maintain the bucolic look of his farm and tariffs that protect him from competing with Symonds' cheaper Uruguayan steaks.

Fleury's annual subsidies are based not only on how he treats his animals, but how much he contributes to the charm of the Burgundy countryside that attracts droves of French and foreign tourists eager to view and photograph "traditional" French landscapes and lifestyles.

"The French consumer has good-quality meat and the French citizens have their countryside preserved," said Fleury in defense of the subsidies that cost European taxpayers an estimated $47 billion a year and the high tariffs that protect him from competition from thousands of tons of foreign beef.

Fleury's farm, large by French standards, is representative of the trend in French agriculture: Though the number of farms in France is rapidly declining, the size of the surviving farms has increased.

His grandparents farmed 50 acres. Fleury inherited about 250 acres and 120 head of cattle from his parents in 1977. Today he farms 670 acres with 360 Charolais breeding and beef cattle. He expanded his farm by buying up land from retiring farmers.

Many of the quaint stone farmhouses and barns in small villages have been abandoned by farmers because they don't meet tough new requirements for sanitation and safety.

In their place, Fleury and other farmers are building massive, featureless sheds housing hundreds of cattle and sheep during the cold winter months. Hay is spread in the stalls by long-necked machines that spit the straw over the heads of the cattle.

Fleury's cattle are monitored from birth, tagged with a number that follows them to the slaughter house. He is required to maintain records on every vaccine or medical treatment each animal receives. In addition, he must keep for five years the records of any fertilizers or chemicals used on his grazing land.

"We have records for what has happened in the life of every animal the consumer eats," said Fleury. "Cattle farmers don't understand why France should be flooded with meat from the other end of the world where these safeguards are not enforced."

Guillermo Symonds, a 44-year-old rancher with a thick mustache and windblown brown hair, couldn't agree less with Fleury's reasoning.

On his Uruguayan ranch, parrots sail over pastures of grass that is tall and sparse in places, short and thick in others. Ceiba trees flower near mossy brooks. Bright yellow lotus flowers haphazardly dot the rolling plains.

The laws of international trade -- not the laws of nature -- did the most to shape this landscape.

The protein-rich flowers were sown by Symonds after fears of mad cow disease prompted Uruguay to protect its main source of exports by banning animal proteins in cattle feed.

"Uruguay takes that kind of thing very seriously, because unlike other countries we don't have a lot of other industries to fall back on," said Symonds, driving his pickup truck across the roadless terrain. "If we lose our meat exports, it's all over."

Symonds -- like Fleury a third-generation farmer -- raises about 5,500 head of cattle on his ranch in western Uruguay, a region where livestock easily outnumbers humans and provides the base for the nation's export economy. About two-thirds of the country's exports come from an agricultural sector that is dominated by cattle, like the Herefords that graze on Symonds' 13,000-acre ranch.

The appearance of the terrain would change considerably if the European Union decided to ease tariffs on foreign beef -- a possibility that Symonds has been tracking in the international press.

He now raises all of his cattle from birth, but more exports to Europe -- a region that pays the highest prices in the world for choice cuts of beef -- would allow him to buy adult cows to fatten, he said. He would open more land for pasture. He'd likely hire more workers, and the number of cows they would round up for slaughter each week would climb to new highs.

But last year, Uruguay's beef exports to Europe equaled only 15 percent of total sales, while 72 percent reached North America.

The reason can be found in the export tariff structure that applies to Uruguay -- a system that Symonds has committed to memory. A tariff of 20 percent is assessed on the first 6,300 tons exported to Europe, but the tariffs skyrocket to between 98 and 176 percent for all additional sales. By contrast, American importers pay only a 4 percent tariff on its first 20,000 tons of beef purchased from Uruguay, and 26 percent for additional shipments.

Uruguayan farmers have benefited from the misfortune of their larger neighbors, Brazil and Argentina. The two countries are South America's dominant meat exporters, but each has faced export barriers recently because of incidents of foot-and-mouth disease. Uruguay has picked up the slack, sending a record number of cows to slaughter last month. But the expected lifting of those trade restrictions on Argentina and Brazil means that Symonds and his neighbors haven't forgotten about Europe.

"In the rich, developed countries, there's a growing demand for the kind of natural, grass-fed beef that we raise here," said Symonds. "So things are going well now, but if the tariffs were lowered in Europe, I think things would be going very, very well."

Moore reported from La Mer, France.

3. Poor nations unite at trade talks

BBC News

More than 100 developing countries have joined forces at world trade talks in Hong Kong to press for greater access to the markets of richer nations.

Countries including Brazil, India and several African nations said they would follow a common negotiating line at the World Trade Organization (WTO) summit.

"This is a historic moment, a sort of revolution within the WTO," Brazil's Foreign Minister Celso Amorim said.

The talks have been deadlocked over demands for an end to farm subsidies.

Tensions have been mounting between the US and the European Union, with both sides insisting the other must make concessions for a deal on freeing up global trade to be reached.

EU officials have refused to endorse a 2010 date for ending farm export subsidies, while the US is sticking to its guns on cotton subsidies.

With the 150-member WTO ministerial conference due to end on Sunday, the talks risk ending with no firm deal.

'Extremely pleased'

In a joint statement, the developing nations "vowed to intensify their dialogue with a view to ensuring that the negotiations lead to an outcome consistent with the development mandate of the Doha round."


  • Cotton :African cotton producers say huge US subsidies distort trade but the US says it will only agree a deal on cotton as part of wider settlement on agriculture
  • Bananas : EU preferences to banana producers in former Caribbean colonies were ruled illegal by the WTO and Latin American countries say tariffs are too high
  • Food Aid : The EU says that all food aid should be given in cash and that US grain shipments to developing countries distort the market. The US believes food aid in kind is vital in famine relief.

It was the first time so many developing countries had issued a joint statement within the WTO.

The current conference is due to sign-off the WTO's Doha round framework on the rules of global free trade, which in part addresses the concerns of poorer nations, first launched in the Qatari capital in 2001.

Earlier, South Africa's trade and industry minister Mandisi Mphahlwa said richer countries were demanding too many concessions from developing nations in return for progress on cutting farming subsidies.

"We are not seeing a balance in what we are expected to do in relation to what developed countries are expected to do," the minister said.

But French agriculture minister Dominique Bussereau welcomed the line taken so far by EU negotiators - led by trade commissioner Peter Mandelson - saying France was "extremely pleased with the position of the commission".

French officials had previously accused Mr Mandelson of making too many concessions ahead of the talks.

Development package

Trade negotiators remain hopeful that a deal on aid to poorer nations will be made before the end of talks on Sunday.

Ministers and officials are locked in talks to reach broad agreement on a draft declaration covering the current state of negotiations by 0400 GMT on Saturday (noon local time).

Richer countries will try to make deals that favour themselves more than others Krysta Tsan, Hong Kong

It is thought that progress on a package of aid to the world's least developed countries, which would see many given duty-free and tariff-free access to the markets of richer nations, will be included in the draft text, which WTO members expect to be released on Saturday.

Despite signs of a breakthrough in this area, ministers attending the WTO conference have continued to express frustration that little progress has been made on laying the groundwork for an end to agriculture subsidies.

Meanwhile, riot police were out in force at the centre hosting the talks as demonstrators vowed to increase their protests outside the event.

4. WTO talks open amid food aid tension

By Sophie Walker and Ee Lyn Tan
Published on the Web by IOL on 2005-12-13

Hong Kong - A transatlantic row on food aid boiled over and anti- globalisation protesters clashed with police on Tuesday as troubled trade talks got under way in Hong Kong.

Deadlocked in negotiations for a free trade accord because of differences over cutting subsidies and import tariffs, World Trade Organisation (WTO) states shifted their focus to delivering a package of trade support for developing nations.

But United Nations (UN) chief Kofi Annan told ministers of nearly 150 states that they must make real progress on the Doha trade round at their six-day meeting or disappoint the millions who "yearn to lift themselves out of poverty".

Tension between the United States and the 25-nation European Union burst into the open as the meeting got under way, with European Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson calling for "radical reform" to the United States (US) system of food aid for developing nations.

Washington sends aid donations in the form of domestic corn, wheat and other commodities, but Brussels says cash is quicker and less likely to affect the delicate balance of local trade.

"Food aid for poor countries and emergency relief can be a tool to advance development and for humanitarian relief," Mandelson told a news conference.

"But the US programme is designed to give support to US agricultural producers."

He also blasted a UN newspaper advertisement which said that restrictions on donations of food to the UN could take food out of the mouths of hungry children.

"I find it shocking that UN agencies should be financing an advert... that is designed to support US trade-distorting policies on food aid," he said.

US Trade Representative Rob Portman said he did not understand the EU "obsession" with food aid.

His spokesperson, Christin Baker, said Washington had put forward a proposal to tighten food aid to ensure it does not skew local commerce.

At the opening ceremony of the talks, dozens of protesters inside the hall forced WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy to raise his voice as they chanted: "Development yes, Doha no'."

Outside, over 100 protesters leapt into Hong Kong harbour after a march by 4 500 people against trade liberalisation.

"The WTO is driving us to our deaths," one Korean protester yelled as the protesters bobbed in the murky waters around a city which, ironically, owes much of its prosperity to a long tradition of international trade.

Nine people, including two police officers, were slightly injured as police used a skin-irritant spray to force back a group of protesters.

But there was none of the intense violence seen during the last WTO meetings in Cancun and Seattle.

Hong Kong had originally been billed as the last milestone to an agreement on the Doha trade round, which was launched four years ago in Qatar with the aim of lifting hundreds of millions in the developing world out of poverty through increased trade.

The WTO nations still hope to reach a final deal by the end of 2006. But, bogged down over how far to open their farm, services and factory goods markets to more trade, they have given up plans to seal a blueprint in Hong Kong.

The EU, in particular, has faced huge pressure to make deeper cuts in agriculture tariffs than the average 39 percent it has offered.

But it has refused to budge without balancing pledges from developing states to open their markets to industrial goods.

"The European Union will not make a new offer," said French Trade Minister Christine Lagarde, whose country has been widely criticised for its determination to protect French farmers.

But the Brazil-led G-20 group called in a statement for a draft deal cutting rich nations' farm tariffs by April.

"We must move in agriculture for the other areas to move," said the developing-country group, which accounts for almost 70 percent of the world's rural population.

In a speech delivered in his name to the opening session, UN Secretary-General Annan said the time had passed for "brinkmanship" in the four-year-old battle for a treaty.

"The lack of major gains here... would be a severe disappointment for poor people around the world yearning to lift themselves out of poverty," said Annan, whose speech was read by UNCTAD trade and development agency chief Supachai Panitchpakdi.

With main areas of the talks stalled, ministers focused on delivering trade support to the poorest developing countries as a sign that they, too, would benefit from more open markets.

"The EU has not come empty-handed," Mandelson said, announcing that EU members had agreed to more than double annual spending on trade- related aid to $1,2-billion (about R7,6-billion).

Japan has announced a $10-billion (R70-billion) trade-related aid package and the United States is expected to outline plans for increased assistance in a speech on Wednesday.

5. WTO: ‘Importing Food is Importing Unemployment'

by Devinder Sharma
Published on Tuesday, December 13, 2005 by Inter Press Service

NEW DELHI - When J.B. Penn, United States under secretary for agriculture, came visiting last month he was told that for India, like any other mainly farming country, importing food was as good as importing unemployment.

‘'We can do so (open up markets as requested by Penn), provided the U.S. is willing to provide a visa to every farmer displaced as a consequence of the import of cheaper and highly subsidised food,'' Penn was told by India's articulate trade minister, Kamal Nath.

It was apparent that U.S. Congress would reject any deal that does not open markets in developing countries--even if they have agrarian economies-- for American farmers.

A week before the World Trade Organisation (WTO) ministerial at Hong Kong began, Saxby Chabliss, chairman of the U.S. senate's agriculture committee was quoted: ‘'To say we're just going to open up our markets without having our farmers here have access to new markets...if that's all that comes out of (the WTO meeting) Hong Kong, then we've accomplished nothing''.

Compare this to what Nath told Indian parliament just before he left for Hong Kong: ‘'I cannot sacrifice the future of India's 600 million farmers at any cost. What the U.S. proposed, last month, is not real cuts in agriculture subsidies. The real cuts would be when there is a decline in the support provided by the U.S. treasury.''

The deadlock over agricultural subsidies will determine the future of the ‘Doha Development round'. International trade in agriculture is closely linked to the removal of agricultural subsidies-- presently computed at 350 billion US dollars or one billion dollars a day -- that the 30 rich countries forming the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) provide.

Recent estimates show that developing countries lose more than 24 billion dollars a year because of the protection that rich countries provide their farmers. Now that promises associated with the ‘development round' have fallen flat, rich countries are strengthening defenses around domestic agriculture and making it difficult for the developing world to penetrate their markets.

Moreover, the industrialised countries continue to exert all kinds of pressure to further open up developing country markets without waiting for the developed countries to simultaneously bring down the agricultural subsidies.

Threats are being resorted to now that it has become impossible to shift the focus of ongoing negotiations from agriculture subsidies to market access. - "Developing countries would lose if the Doha Development Round fails," WTO chief Pascal Lamy warned African trade ministers, last month, at Arusha. "The US can increase its trade-distorting domestic support (TDS) by 5 billion dollars, the EU by 25 billion and Japan by 5 billion."

What Lamy did not say was that developing country agriculture was doomed anyway if the huge subsidies the OECD pays to its agribusiness corporations and rich farmers are not entirely scrapped.

Bribery and bait are the two other planks of the ‘negotiating' strategy that are being applied. Least developing countries (LDCs) are being provided with an ‘aid for trade' package, expected to be in the range of four billion dollars, in the name of assistance to cope with adjustment costs, and provide infrastructure.

Besides, the promise of a ‘development package' contains duty and quota- free access for LDC products, preference erosion, some special and differential treatment proposals and longer transition periods on trade- related intellectual property rights (TRIPS) and investment measures.

While the talks falter, highly subsidised imports from the developed countries have already done irreparable damage to the agricultural production potential of the developing countries. Between 1995 and 2004, Europe alone has been able to increase its agricultural exports by 26 per cent mostly through massive domestic and export subsidies.

Each percentage increase in exports brings in a financial gain of three billion dollars.

On the other hand, a vast majority of the developing countries, whether in Latin America, Africa or Asia have, in the first 10 years of WTO, turned into food importers. Millions of farmers have lost their livelihoods as a result of cheaper imports.

If the WTO has its way, and the developing countries fail to understand the politics that drives the agriculture trade agenda, the world will soon have two kinds of agriculture systems -- the rich countries producing staple foods for the world's 6 billion plus people, and developing countries growing cash crops like tomatoes, cut flowers, peas, sunflowers, strawberries and vegetables.

This is what happened in many of the Latin American countries that were forced to dismantle food security and diversify to cash crops as part of the conditionality that came along with structural adjustment loans. The same strategy is now being legitimized for the rest of the world under the legal framework of the WTO.

As the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have repeatedly emphasized, the dollars that developing countries earn from exporting these crops will eventually be used to buy food grains from the developed nations -- in reality, passing the reins of food security back into the hands of rich countries.

For India, a major farming country, that would mean going back to the days of a ‘ship-to-mouth' existence before it struggled to achieve food self-sufficiency on the backs of hundreds of millions of small farmers.

It is the livelihoods of these farmers, as well as the food security of the people they fed for decades, that is at stake at Hong Kong.

6. Nebraska corporate farming ban ruled down

Thursday, December 15, 2005
http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/business/ 1310AP_Corporate_Farming_Lawsuit.html

LINCOLN, Neb. -- A federal judge on Thursday rejected Nebraska's ban on corporate farming as unconstitutional.

The ban, widely known as Initiative 300, was added to the state constitution through a petition drive spearheaded by the Farmers Union in 1982. I-300 generally prohibits corporations and certain other business entities from owning farmland or engaging in agricultural activity, although there were numerous exceptions.

U.S. District Judge Laurie Smith-Camp said the ban violates the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution and the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Attorney General Jon Bruning said his office plans to appeal the ruling.

The lawsuit was filed by several ranchers, including former state Sen. Jim Jones, who said the ban hindered them in trying to form family corporations to preserve their operations or to combine with neighbors.

The lawsuit said I-300 violates the Americans With Disabilities Act because it requires at least one family member who owns the farm to be engaged in day-to-day physical activities on the farm. That, according to the lawsuit, discriminates against people with disabilities.

At least nine states - Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Wisconsin - passed laws in the 1970s and 1980s to restrict corporate farm ownership.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of a similar decision, which found that South Dakota's ban on corporate farming was unconstitutional.

Smith-Camp said Nebraska's law violated the federal commerce clause, which says states may not enact laws that discriminate against or unduly burden interstate commerce.

David Jarecke, an attorney who represented the plaintiffs, hailed the ruling.

"I am particularly pleased for Nebraska producers who will now have the opportunity to combine their efforts," he said.

7. Corn is latest battleground in U.S.-Canada trade war

The Gazette (Montreal)
December 16, 2005

Canada has fired the first shot in a trade war with the United States over corn.

The action comes during an election campaign that has seen Prime Minister Paul Martin engage in a war of words with the U.S. ambassador to Canada, David Wilkins, over trade issues.

In a ruling issued by the Canadian Border Services Agency yesterday, U.S. corn farmers were found guilty of dumping mass quantities of their products on Canadian soil for below market values. The ruling has been eagerly anticipated by Canadian corn farmers who have been fighting to see a tariff imposed on U.S. corn for years.

The farmers won their first battle on Nov. 15, when the Canadian International Trade Tribunal - an administrative body that reports to the minister of finance - ruled that unprocessed grain corn from the U.S. is hurting Canadian producers.

The ruling set the groundwork for yesterday's decision by the Canadian Border Services Agency. According to the ruling, to combat the dumping of unprocessed U.S. corn, a countervailing tariff - which will almost double the price of corn - will be imposed on every bushel of U.S. corn that crosses the Canadian border. The countervailing duties total $1.07 U.S. per bushel, plus anti-dumping duties of 58 cents U.S.

U.S. dumping has depressed the prices of corn in Canada for years, forcing many Canadian corn farmers out of business.

"These duties from our viewpoint are very welcome," said Brian Doidge, a spokesperson for the Canadian Corn Producers. "What we really view it is as, is substantiation that for 20 years the U.S. farm bill does indeed hurt Canadian grain producers."

But, not all Canadian farmers are happy with the ruling.

Corn buyers say the duty will hurt the ethanol, corn processing and livestock industries, as well as the Canadian corn growers who asked for the trade investigation.

"The amount of the duty is staggering," said Kathleen Sullivan, general manager of the Animal Nutrition Association of Canada, which represents feed manufacturers.

Sullivan is part of a coalition called the Animal Industry Corn Users, which said the duty announced yesterday will add up to $100 in costs to feed each head of cattle in Ontario and up to $20 to feed each hog. That will give U.S. livestock farmers an advantage in raising pigs and cattle.

"The duty is massive and is putting at risk $8-billion worth of Canadian meat and livestock exports," said Peter Clark, a lawyer representing the group and brewers and food processors.

Bliss Baker, vice-president of Commercial Alcohols in Chatham, Ont., said the duty could be "devastating" on existing and new ethanol plants.

But Doidge said it's not rational for those who have been benefiting from cheap corn to expect that to continue at the growers' expense.

The actions against U.S. farmers come at a time when Martin has been especially vocal about the U.S.'s stance on Canadian softwood lumber and environmental issues. NOTICE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for research and educational purposes.

8. Conference looks at next step in hunt for new fuels

Joy Powell, Minneapolis Star Tribune
December 12, 2005

Imagine a nation in which farmers would be subsidized for growing prairie grasses, rather than corn, to produce fuel.

Or communities that would use a gooey paper-mill byproduct called "black liquor" to produce heat and electricity, or even diesel for metro buses.

Renewable energy experts discussed such possibilities Monday in St. Paul as Minnesota took a look beyond its model programs using ethanol and biodiesel to the next generation of alternative energy sources.

Consumer concerns over climbing fuel prices and global warming caused by emissions of carbon dioxide are converging to boost consumer appetite for "homegrown energy" ranging from wind to hydrogen to biomass, said Jack Geller, president of the Center for Rural Policy & Development, which sponsored the forum.

The growing support comes on the heels of a new federal energy law that will increase the use of renewable fuels and biomass.

"We really think that 2005 is going to go down in history as a real benchmark for alternative energy," said Myron Just, an agribusiness consultant who organized the forum, attended by about 70 leaders from government, academia and industry.

Renewable energy is becoming popular with consumers as sales of corn and wood stoves are soaring.

And in St. Paul, Anders Rydaker, chief manager of Market Street Energy Co., which produces heat and electricity from urban waste wood for District Energy St. Paul, said 10 consumers called him last week to ask how they could get on the grid.

Rydaker said the use of renewable fuels "not only benefits farms and rural folks," but people in the metro area, as well. They can easily cut their natural gas consumption in half, he said.

The biomass waste heat generated by the company meets much of downtown St. Paul's needs, Rydaker said.

Xcel Energy has contracted to buy 25 megawatts of electricity and 153,000 megawatt-hours of energy each year from his company. That's enough electricity to supply about 20,000 homes.

Mike Bull, assistant commissioner at the Minnesota Commerce Department, said projects such as Market Street and Laurentium Energy Authority in Hibbing and Virginia, Minn., are helping Minnesota move toward its goal of doubling the energy derived from renewable sources. Today, Minnesota is the only state with a program to get 20 percent of gasoline and 20 percent of electricity from renewable resources by 2015, Bull said.

While wind is the most economical renewable resource to achieve that goal, he said, investment is needed in transmission infrastructure.

Already, Bull said, Minnesota is the only state with both ethanol and biodiesel blending requirements. (Ethanol is made from corn; biodiesel is made from soybeans or animal fats.)

Creatively meeting demand

Global oil and natural-gas production cannot continue indefinitely to meet global demand, said Dr. Robert Elde, dean of the College of Biological Sciences at the University of Minnesota. The United States is the world's biggest energy consumer, but fast-growing economies such as China and India are placing increasing demands on global energy stocks.

"If the developing world takes the same path that we have [taken] in the last 100 years, our world is in serious danger," said Elde, who also is chairman of the Initiative for Renewable Energy and Environment, which is funded by the Minnesota Legislature.

While optimists say oil should remain readily available for 70 to 100 years, Elde said, pessimists say we'll face shortages of fossil fuels much sooner.

"We ought to be smarter," he said, about harnessing more products of photosynthesis on a "real-time basis," such as with corn for ethanol.

We also should look at cornstalks and other biomass from both farm and forest products to meet nearly a third of U.S. energy consumption, he said.

University of Minnesota researchers are studying how to move beyond corn to more efficiently produce energy.

A single crop, such as corn, isn't as efficient as a mix of grasses for producing biomass, Elde said. But a mixture of 16 or more species yields 2.7 times the biomass for energy production, Elde said.

Such a shift in crop production, he said, could bring big trade benefits, as well.

The United States is under increasing pressure from the World Trade Organization (WTO) to reduce or eliminate subsidies for food production "which could be devastating for rural America," where economies are built around corn and soybean farming, Elde said.

But there's no WTO prohibition for subsidizing energy crops, he said.

9. The dangers of agroterrorism

by Stan Cox
Published on Tuesday, December 13, 2005 by CommonDreams.org

"In the war on terrorism, the fields and pastures of America’s farmland might seem at first to have nothing in common with the towers of the World Trade Center or busy seaports. In fact, however, they are merely different manifestations of the same high-priority target, the American economy."

That's Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) warning us about "agroterrorism", a specter that she and others in Washington say is stalking rural America. Here in the Great Plains, we're all being exhorted to keep a round-the-clock lookout for agroterrorists lurking around farms or feedlots.

Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas, Republican chair of the Intelligence Committee, has been hyping agroterrorism since 1999. But it took the 9/11 attacks to get some action. Roberts recently told the Wichita Eagle, "At least now, when I talk about agroterrorism, people don't tell me to talk about something else."

Keeping in mind that terrorists never seem inclined to take targeting suggestions from US politicians, we know these days to treat any use the word "terrorism" with deep skepticism. But when a prefix is attached, we should be especially wary.

Given the lack of standardization (the prefix of "bioterrorism" denoting the means of attack, of "narcoterrorism" the means of finance, of "ecoterrorism" the beneficiary, and of "agroterrorism" the target) it's clear that "terrorism" is simply a device to draw attention to whatever is in the prefix, and maybe scare up some funding.

The Current Research Information System (CRIS) is a database describing all agricultural research projects funded by the US Department of Agriculture through grants, contracts, or its own agencies. A search of CRIS for variants of the terms "agroterrorism" or "terrorism" turns up 18 agriculture-related projects initiated during the four-year period 1998-2001. For the following four years, 2001-05, there are precisely 100 projects that mention terrorism or related terms.

Titles of the projects range from "Semiochemical Management Tactics for Filth Flies in Animal Production" to "A Partnership for Pharmaceutical and Economic Development of Wild Lebanese Plants". Some of the projects are actually aimed at thwarting or investigating agroterrorism. Many others simply mention it as one among many applications of research that the scientists would likely be doing anyway for other reasons. Either way, agroterrorism is 'in' in Washington.

This past summer, the federally funded National Agricultural Biosecurity Center at Kansas State University prepared a report for the US Department of Justice entitled "Defining Law Enforcement's Role in Protecting American Agriculture Against Agroterrorism" (their italics). It defined "four categories of potential terrorists", only one of them identifiably foreign, who might spread foot-and-mouth or other diseases among cattle, causing billions in economic losses but no human illness:

1. International terrorists
2. Economic opportunists
3. Domestic terrorists (either a Timothy McVeigh type or a "disgruntled employee")
4. Militant animal rights activists (The report notes that "militant elements, such as the Animal Liberation Front, could view an attack on the animal food industry as a positive event.")

It seems that agroterrorism is just a new name for old-fashioned sabotage.

Out here in the red states, we often worry that the average American has little knowledge or interest in agriculture. But we need to change our attitude, according to the "Agro-Guard" program sponsored by the NABC and Kansas Bureau of Investigation. Its brochure (pdf) urges citizens to report to the authorities anyone showing an interest in agricultural matters who has "no logical reason or purpose" for such interest. It exhorts rural Americans to "report any activity around facilities that YOU deem suspicious or out-of-place."

So now I suppose we do things this way:

New Jersey traveler: "Say, do you guys give tours?"

Slaughterhouse manager: "May I see your papers, please? ... Hey, Merle, call the sheriff!"

In Kansas City each spring, The FBI and federal Joint Terrorism Task Force convene an International Symposium on Agroterrorism. Relying on some of the concepts discussed at the 2005 Symposium and other oft-mentioned scenarios, I composed the following list of six potential threats.

Then I realized that much of the damage agroterrorism is expected to cause is already a reality:

Agroterrorists might sicken or kill thousands of Americans by contaminating the food supply with biological agents.

Thousands of Americans? The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that "76 million Americans get sick, more than 300,000 are hospitalized, and 5,000 people die from foodborne illnesses each year."

The flow of food contaminated with nasty microorganisms coming from of an ever-more-industrialized countryside is heavy and constant. Of the 10 organisms listed by the US Public Health Service as the most serious threats, 7 are carried by meat and dairy products.

In promoting the agroterrorism threat, Senator Collins conjured up a bucolic image: "the fields and pastures of America's farmland." But the overcrowded, filthy conditions of gigantic feedlots and animal-confinement facilities that produce most of our meat are well-known, as are the opportunities for contamination in high-throughput, lightly inspected slaughterhouses.

Cattle consuming a grain-based diet in feedlots (and that's the vast majority of beef cattle in this country) are more likely to have the deadly bacterium E. coli 0157:H7 in their feces than are grass- or hay-fed cattle, and meat is frequently contaminated with feces as it leaves the slaughterhouse.

What if someone were to poison the rural water supply?

Someone's already doing it. A 1998 CDC report showed that 15% of domestic wells in Illinois, 21% in Iowa, and 24% in Kansas were contaminated with nitrates above a safe level. Most of the nitrates get into wells by escaping the roots of heavily fertilized crops and leaching into groundwater. Consumption of nitrates is associated with methemoglobenemia ("blue baby syndrome") in infants. Many, but not all, studies have shown links between nitrates and various cancers in adults.

A 2004 report by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (pdf) surveyed 19,500 miles of rivers and streams in the state. More than half of those miles -- 10,800 -- were "impaired for one or more uses" by pollution. Of more than 180,000 acres of lakes, 75% were similarly polluted. More than 40% of stream mileage and lake acreage was unable to "fully support" aquatic life, and 69% of lake acreage could not fully support domestic water uses.

In the Kansas study, agriculture was by far the biggest cause of damage to surface waters -- exceeding industry, municipal discharge, sewage, urban runoff, mining, and oil drilling combined.

Terrorists might breed bacteria resistant to most or all antibiotics, spreading hard-to-cure diseases among animals and humans.

But they'd be too late. According to a study published this year by CDC scientists, bacterial resistance to multiple antibiotics in human patients comes chiefly from feeding antibiotics to livestock. The bacteria that survive and contaminate the meat of such animals are likely to be resistant.

And, the study showed, resistant bacteria are more likely to cause bloodstream infections requiring hospitalization. A 2004 study found that an outbreak of antibiotic-resistant urinary tract infections of women in California was caused by meat-borne bacteria from antibiotic-treated animals.

In this country, antibiotics are widely fed to livestock even when they aren't sick, because the drugs promote weight gain and profits. That practice has been banned in Europe because it accelerates the development of hard-to-kill bacterial strains.

Vast acreages of crops could be wiped out by inoculation with plant diseases.

Mother Nature is already busy inoculating crops with a massive array of fungi, bacteria, viruses, and insects -- some beneficial and some harmful. Over the past 30 years, Kansas wheat production has been reduced by an average 30 to 40 million bushels per year by a dozen different fungal and viral diseases -- and that doesn't count insects and mites.

The disease organisms are natural, but epidemics are not; they result when vast acreages are sown to one or a few crop species (e.g., corn and soybeans in the Upper Midwest, wheat in the Great Plains), the fields are kept as free as possible of any other flora or fauna, and only a handful of genetically similar crop varieties are grown.

As late as the 1960s, the United States bioweapons program worked on "weaponizing" two crop diseases, wheat stem rust and rice blast, and the Soviets worked on such pathogens for another couple of decades after that, but neither seems to have come up with an effective way to wipe out a nation's crop entirely.

Terrorists might use chemical weapons. Remember, the 9/11 gang showed an interest in flying crop dusters!

Of the 1.2 billion pounds of pesticides (fungicides, insecticides, herbicides, and others) used in the United States, 75% are used in agriculture, and that proportion has been fairly constant over the past 20 years.

The consequences? The following is reproduced from a report by the Natural Resources Defense Council:

Children living in farming areas or whose parents work in agriculture are exposed to pesticides to a greater degree, and from more sources than other children. The outdoor herbicide atrazine was detected inside all the houses of Iowa farm families sampled in a small study during the application season, and in only 4 percent of 362 non-farm homes.

Neurotoxic organophosphate pesticides have been detected on the hands of farm children at levels that could result in exposures above U.S. EPA designated "safe" levels.

Metabolites of organophosphate pesticides used only in agriculture were detectable in the urine of two out of every three children of agricultural workers and in four out of every ten children who simply live in an agricultural region.

On farms, children as young as 10 can work legally, and younger children frequently work illegally or accompany their parents to the fields due to economic necessity and a lack of child care options. These practices can result in acute poisonings and deaths.

By far the most comprehensive epidemiological study of the effects of ag chemicals is the National Institutes of Health / EPA Agricultural Health Study, which has been running since 1993. Scientists have been monitoring the health of private and commercial pesticide applicators and spouses -- almost 90,000 of them so far. The still-unfinished research is suggesting that some ag chemicals present risks to humans. "Outcomes of concern" include cancer, neurologic diseases, reproductive problems, and nonmalignant respiratory diseases.

Meanwhile, the EPA, at industry's urging, continues to permit dosing of human subjects with pesticides in order to test their effects.

A highly trained agroterrorist might infect crops with a toxin-producing fungus and contaminate our food that way.

No terrorists or training necessary. Vomitoxin, produced by the "scab" fungus Fusarium graminearum, and aflatoxin, produced by Aspergillus flavis, have been inflicting enormous headaches and costs on farmers and the grain industry for years. Vomitoxin makes a wheat or barley crop unusable as human food and drastically reduces or destroys its value as livestock feed. Aflatoxin, found most often in peanuts or corn, is carcinogenic.

In the state North Dakota alone, scab has cost farmers $162 million this year and $1.5 billion since 1993. It caused a disastrous epidemic in the southeastern United States in 2003.

Two factors have converged in recent years to make scab much more severe: (a) farmers concerned about soil erosion have reduced or eliminated tillage in many fields, leaving infected crop residue on the soil surface, and (b) grain agriculture in the US continues to emphasize continuous monocultures or unsustainable rotations such as wheat following corn.

Those who are sounding the agroterrorism alarm acknowledge that the increasing concentration of US agriculture, and its increasingly industrial infrastructure, make it more vulnerable. But those same, homegrown forces are already having consequences that are not easy to distinguish from the results of a hypothetical agroterror attack.

With an agriculture like this, who needs terrorists?

Stan Cox is a plant breeder (perennial crops, resistant to terrorism) and writer in Salina, Kansas. He can be reached at: t.stan@cox.net.

10. Too many homes on the range

By Chris Frasier
Prairie Writers Circle

I've been herding cattle amidst trophy homes in the nation's fastest growing county. Our family leases grass on the south edge of Denver, and we're helping to keep urban sprawl from claiming one more patch of rural America.

Nationwide, urban areas are sprouting extreme suburbs -- exurbs -- that leapfrog across the landscape at an unprecedented rate. According to the Department of Agriculture, the United States loses over a million acres of rural land each year.

As I drive through Denver on my way to check the cattle, I see this statistic in real life. Despite 10 lanes of traffic, it takes an hour to reach a narrow highway winding through what was only recently a ranching community. Unpainted barns sag, unused, in the shadow of steel horse arenas. Oversized new homes, dubbed "starter castles" by the locals, sit perched on hilltops. Shaggy hay meadows that once fed hundreds of cattle now support a few horses.

At the ranch where our cattle graze, the land opens up a bit. The Wiens family have worked to keep their piece of rural America intact. They've clustered their barns and homes in the bottom of the draw, instead of perching them on hilltops like the valley's newcomers.

Their pastures are green and tightly fenced, in contrast to the yellow, stagnant grass on neighboring ranchettes. Their steep hay fields are flooded with irrigation water from ditches laid out a hundred years ago, and produce bales by the thousands. But all around them, the foothills sprout homes like weeds.

There's a saying among ranchers who struggle to make ends meet in the midst of beautiful spaces: You can't eat the scenery. Yet this summer our cattle gorged themselves on the backdrop of prime real estate, gaining 80,000 pounds on the hoof. That's two more semi-trailers than we hauled into the valley last April, enough roast beef dinners to feed a subdivision for two weeks. But cattle here are quickly being crowded off the range.

One midsummer evening I rode my horse over a ridge on the Wiens Ranch, pushing a small bunch of heifers to the corral. The sun's heat had slipped behind the hogback foothills as we waded through stirrup-high grass. Thunderheads rolled off the mountains, their bellies splashed pink and orange. The cattle slowed to nibble at wheatgrass.

Even my horse seemed entranced by the silent Rockies towering on the horizon.

It was a moment as pure and unfallen as any I can remember. But even then, in the background I heard cars whining up private lanes as commuters returned home from work. Only a few minutes of daylight remained for them to enjoy the rural solitude of their country estates.

Those new neighbors were lured here for the very sort of moment I enjoyed, a glimpse of the sunset at the end of a harried commute.

They paid dearly for their land, and continue paying the steep price of long commutes in four-wheel-drive vehicles. By displacing agriculture for their private enjoyment, they've turned the view into a commodity. Barbed wire may keep cattle in, but it can't keep developers out.

In the future, this land will produce more trophy home sites and fewer choice beefsteaks.

Intact farms and ranches produce a host of social benefits that make the nation livable. But as the countryside fragments into smaller parcels, it no longer produces food, fiber and the open spaces that add charm to rural America. Any midlevel corporate executive can outbid ranchers for the rights to a secluded hillside pasture, even though his seclusion is subsidized by the few ranches that remain.

America is filled with spectacular views, often threatened by people who will never be satisfied until they own one. But the view isn't going anywhere. Those who care to climb these grassy hillsides can discover it for themselves, at no cost. It's only those determined to buy it -- to tame the landscape within a picture window -- who spoil it for everyone.

# # #

Chris Frasier ranches with his family near Limon, Colo. He wrote this essay for the Land Institute's Prairie Writers Circle, Salina, Kan.

11. ETC Group releases new report on corporate power, Oligopoly, Inc. 2005

ETC Group
News Release
16 December 2005

As governments at the 6th WTO Ministerial in Hong Kong bristle with the thorny politics of trade, the report that ETC Group releases today, Oligopoly, Inc. 2005, serves as a reminder that what looks like buying and selling between countries is most often the redistribution of capital among subsidiaries of the same parent multinational corporation.

ETC Group's new report is available at http://www.etcgroup.org

In Oligopoly, Inc. 2005 ETC Group revisits the sectors analyzed in Oligopoly, Inc. 2003 and finds that corporate concentration - not only in food and agriculture, but in all sectors related to the products and processes of life - has increased remarkably since the last review two years ago. Since then:

  • the world's top 10 seed companies have increased their control from one-third to one-half of the global seed trade
  • the top 10 biotech enterprises have raised their share from just over half to nearly three-quarters of world biotech sales
  • the market share of the top 10 pesticide manufacturers rose modestly, from 80 to 84%, but industry analysts predict that only three companies will survive the next decade
  • The top 10 pharmaceutical companies control almost 59% market share of the world's leading 98 drug firms (previously the top 10 accounted for 53% market share of 118 companies)

Hope Shand, ETC Group's research director, observes, "It comes as no surprise that corporate concentration has increased dramatically since ETC Group's Oligopoly, Inc. 2003 report. The trend line is distressing and the predictions of new mergers and greater concentration are alarming. What we are witnessing is ever more concentrated control over every aspect of life."

As the input-ers and the output-ers battle for survival and supremacy, ETC Group's report shows that a subterranean struggle is underway at the nano-scale to control the fundamental building blocks of life and nature. Corporate investment in nanobiotechnology (or, synthetic biology) could give ultimate control to a very different set of corporate actors. In the coming decades, nano-scale technologies, particularly synthetic biology, could make geography, raw materials, and even labour, irrelevant.

ETC Group's executive director Pat Mooney explains, "In a very real sense, technology is poised to surpass trade as the defining feature of comparative advantage in the 21st century. While corporate concentration dominates commodity trade, proprietary technologies spanning multiple industrial sectors are the royal flush - the winning hand that beats all. The message for Hong Kong is clear: Technology Trumps Trade." In particular, countries in the global South need to consider both corporate concentration and emerging technology trends to avoid dead-end trade deals.

On December 12th in Hong Kong, ETC Group reported on a study prepared for the South Centre that looks at the potential impact of new nano- scale technologies on Commodity Dependent Developing Countries and argues that "technology will trump trade" in the 21st century. The report can be downloaded from www.southcentre.org.

For more information:

Hope Shand and Kathy Jo Wetter (USA)
tel: +1 (919) 960-5223

Pat Mooney (Ottawa)
tel: +1 (613) 241-2267

Silvia Ribeiro (Mexico)
tel: +52 55 55 632 664

The Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration, ETC Group, is dedicated to the conservation and sustainable advancement of cultural and ecological diversity and human rights. ETC Group is also a member of the Community Biodiversity Development and Conservation Programme (CBDC). The CBDC is a collaborative experimental initiative involving civil society organizations and public research institutions in 14 countries. The CBDC is dedicated to the exploration of community-directed programmes to strengthen the conservation and enhancement of agricultural biological diversity. CBDC website is www.cbdcprogram.org All ETC Group publications are available on our website: www.etcgroup.org