Former Ag Chairman Warns of Doha Disaster

November 20, 2008

WASHINGTON (Nov 20, 2008)—Larry Combest, the former Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, this week penned a policy paper outlining potential pitfalls for farmers if the current World Trade Organization trade talks conclude without serious revisions.

“Moving forward with the current direction of the Doha Round would critically injure an important sector of the U.S. economy, cost Americans jobs, and seriously undermine future support for trade agreements for a long time to come,” the Texas Republican wrote in his paper, which was first published by AgWeb.com.

Combest said the initial intent of the deal—to make cuts in its farm support in return for comparable improvement in market access for U.S. agricultural products—was perfectly palatable to U.S. farmers and was even looked at as a potential net gain.

However, as negotiations materialized it became clear that the Doha Round would be a net loser for America’s farmers and ranchers, who would have to give up far more than they would receive in return through open markets.

“[T]he U.S. agricultural community seems markedly unexcited by the potential benefits that the Doha Round might yield in developed country markets,” he wrote. “The situation is far starker in developing countries. They will be provided a panoply of measures by which they can avoid any real opening of their markets.”

Farmers and lawmakers from rural areas sent U.S. trade negotiators a clear signal in July when world leaders attempted to finalize a deal that would have jeopardized the recently passed U.S. farm bill.

Commodity organizations wrote a letter of opposition to the proposed deal. So did numerous members of the Senate Agriculture Committee. Farmers even printed up “Sarkozy Farm Team” t-shirts in honor of France’s president and outspoken WTO critic, Nicolas Sarkozy.

Negotiations broke down after China, India, and Brazil demanded even more from U.S. agriculture, but efforts are underway to rekindle the talks and strike a deal before year’s end.

Combest thinks this attempt to jumpstart negotiations is a mistake.

“Our farmers don’t need to see this horror flick again,” his paper concluded. “U.S. negotiators walked away from a bad agreement in July. But they are now back at it again in Geneva, pursuing the unenviable task of trying to transform a sow’s ear into a silk purse. They should keep walking and allow a new Administration to take a hard look at what’s on the table in the Doha Round and insist on the changes needed to deliver a deal that provides the real goods to U.S. agriculture.”