FPF Addresses Inaccuracies in DTN Washington Insider Column

May 23, 2014

Editor’s Note: This column appeared in the May 23, 2014 edition of DTN-Progressive Farmer.

Dear DTN-The Progressive Farmer:

We write to clear up a few inaccuracies in your column of May 20, 2014, entitled Washington Insider: The Fight for Ag Policy Principles.

First, President Bush did not veto twice or even once the 2002 Farm Bill that was sponsored by Rep. Larry Combest (R-TX), then Chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture.  President Bush signed the 2002 Farm Bill on May 13, 2002, stating,  “I recently spent some time with some of my neighbors at the coffee shop in Crawford, Texas. I know how hard many struggle. Their livelihood depends on things they cannot control: the weather, crop disease, uncertain pricing. They need a Farm Bill that provides support and help when times are tough. And that is why I’m signing this bill today.”

Second, the “inelegance” of the term “dumped” is a term of art.  According to the United States International Trade Commission, “Under the Tariff Act of 1930, U.S. industries may petition the government for relief from imports that are sold in the United States at less than fair value (‘dumped’) or which benefit from subsidies provided through foreign government programs.”

Third, the Heritage Foundation’s analysis and tactics have been increasingly chastised by Members of Congress, including Senator Tom Coburn, Reps. Jeb Hensarling, Renee Ellmers, Lynn Westmoreland, and the Speaker of the House.  The concern is not unique to the Farm Bill, but the concern on the part of conservative Members is relatively recent.

But these issues are collateral to the bigger mistake the column makes and that is the miscasting of the real issue in dispute which is that Farm Policy Facts takes issue or disagrees with Heritage’s view that “Free Trade in Agriculture Benefits Farmers and Consumers.”  Neither Farm Policy Facts nor any of its supporting members hold that view.

The position of Heritage with which we do take exception, however, is this:  “Europe and Japan’s farm subsidies bring American consumers food at below-market prices. Rather than enact trade barriers to prevent this, Americans should welcome the cheap imports …”  With this we do take issue because Heritage’s position amounts to the support of predatory pricing on the global stage and that, in fact, is not a free market at all.

American farmers and ranchers have no issue with having to compete on a level playing field with producers around the world but not against foreign producers bankrolled by their government treasuries.

On December 2, 2008, the four leaders of the Senate Committee on Finance and the House Committee on Ways and Means essentially agreed with Farm Policy Facts, stating in a letter to the President in regard to the then-ongoing Doha Round negotiations:  “…we have strong doubts that a ministerial meeting at this time can achieve the breakthrough that actually provides the new trade flows needed to spur the global economy and help deliver on Doha’s development promise.”

The letter went on to state, “In July of this year, we commended your administration for walking away from a lopsided WTO package that we in Congress would not have been able to support.”  The letter concluded, “To win Congressional support, any outcome to these negotiations must serve to facilitate meaningful increases in international trade flows and further strengthen the rules-based system of international trade.”

One can ascertain from the letter that the concern of the four principals over a lopsided trade deal was not solely based on the adverse affects such a deal would work on American farmers and ranchers but over the potential failure of such a deal in achieving the stimulative effects on the global economy sought after in such an agreement.

Five months earlier, nearly every member of the Senate Agriculture Committee signed a letter led by the then Chairman and Ranking Member, stating their objections to the direction of the Doha Round negotiations:  “Unfortunately our trading partners up until now have not committed to a balanced outcome involving an ambitious result in market access.  Reduction in trade-distorting domestic support must be accompanied by real market access gains that are comparable in magnitude and will provide net gains for U.S. agriculture.  Anything less will not receive our support.”

The letter concluded, “Neither U.S. agriculture nor individual commodities should have to shoulder an unfair burden of the negotiations.  If you are presented with an unbalanced text, we urge you to reject it in favor of continued negotiations.”

DTN-The Progressive Farmer is well within its rights to take the position of Heritage Foundation on this matter.  As for Farm Policy Facts, we stand by our position so eloquently set forth by the leaders on international trade in the United States Congress.