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Zoellick harms family farmers with WTO commitment

by Larry Mitchell
CEO American Corn Growers Association

(Thursday, Aug. 12, 2004 -- CropChoice guest commentary)-- The recent commitment of U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick to the World Trade Organization (WTO) is yet anther in a series of policy decisions by the present administration to unravel the safety net for the nation's farm families. His decision to slash our essential domestic farm program benefits by 20 percent is ill-advised, irresponsible and ill-timed.

Zoellick's decision can now be added to a growing list of the President's policy decisions that have undermined U.S. domestic farm policy. After signing the 2002 farm bill, this administration has fought fiercely to avoid enforcing several of the provisions of that bill, including Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) for food products sold in the U.S.

The current administration has also undermined the Conservation Security Program, another essential component of the 2002 farm bill and designed to reward good land stewardship in all areas of the country, by limiting the program to select watershed areas which lie predominantly in Republican congressional districts.

And in the latest and most outrageous move, this administration has amplified its typical bravado by announcing how much assistance it is providing through various programs authorized in the energy title of the 2002 farm bill. These energy programs are the very programs that were slashed in the President budget. Had it not been for the actions of Democratic leaders in the Congress, these programs would have not been funded at all, so how does the Secretary of Agriculture earn license to claim these programs as her salvation to rural America?

But the most troubling part of the Zoellick commitment is the timing as it relates to the confusion and despair in rural America. At a time when the grain markets are seeing the lowest carry-over stocks in decades, farmers are experiencing the lowest prices for corn, soybeans and other crops in years and paying the highest energy prices in history, the President's chief trade negotiator has agreed to decimate the domestic agricultural safety net. Many farmers, during this trying time, are blaming themselves for their failures. I can only reassure them that it is not their fault. It is the fault of failed farm programs, failed energy policy, and failed promises from our government.

As for the merits of the trade agreement, we must recognize that farmers do not trade internationally -- international grain companies do. While cash corn prices dropped below $2.00 per bushel recently, Cargill Inc. has reported fourth-quarter earnings that represent a 38 percent increase over the same period a year ago. Unless we can quantify, verify and guarantee what our farmers, the actual producers of the products to be traded, will receive in return for losing their safety net, the Zoellick commitment must be withdrawn.