Thursday, May 6, 2010

Brave Reps Fight the Congressional Ag Subsidy Machine; Machine Yawns

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about the valiant bi-partisan effort in the US House of Representatives to repeal American cotton subsidies that have been repeatedly ruled illegal under WTO rules and have caused the Obama administration to insanely subsidize Brazilian cotton farmers to the tune of $150 million in order to delay Brazil's imposition of $1 billion in sanctions on US exports pursuant to those WTO rulings.  Back then, Reps. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Ron Kind (D-WI), Paul Ryan (R-WI), and Barney Frank (D-MA) sent a great letter to President Obama pointing out the insanity of our current farm policy and asking that the White House lead the repeal effort - a letter that apparently went straight from Capitol Hill to the Oval Office trashcan.  (Shocking, I know.)

Undaunted, these brave and lonely Congressmen gained two more colleagues, Dave Reichert (R-WA) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), and issued on May 4 another sternly-worded letter on the absurd American cotton subsidies and the embarrassing US-Brazil dispute.  This time, the letter went to an equally unreceptive audience, if not moreso - the Chairs and ranking members of the Senate and House Agriculture committees: Sens. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) and Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), and Reps. Collin Peterson (D-MN) and Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK).  The full text of the letter is printed below, and you've gotta admire the signatories' efforts - there's simply no doubt that they have a very strong argument that the current US cotton subsidy situation is obscene. 

However, you've also gotta chuckle at the idea of this letter landing on the desks of proven cotton-benefactors Lincoln and Chambliss, of "Wheat Leader" Peterson, and of farm subsidy "champion" Lucas (whose district, by the way, has received almost 3.4 billion in farm subsidies since he took office).  Yeah, I'm sure that these subsidy-loving pols are going to get right on this matter.  You know, right after they finish keynoting the next annual meeting of the National Cotton Council.

But hey, at least these guys are trying.  That's a helluva a lot more than we can say about Lincoln, Chambliss, Peterson or Lucas.  Or President Obama for that matter.


The Honorable Blanche Lincoln
Senate Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Nutrition
328 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-6200

The Honorable Collin Peterson
House Committee on Agriculture
1301 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

The Honorable Saxby Chambliss
Ranking Member
Senate Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Nutrition
416 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-6200

The Honorable Frank Lucas
Ranking Member
House Committee on Agriculture
1305 Longworth House Office Building Washington, DC 20515

Dear Senators Lincoln and Chambliss and Congressmen Peterson and Lucas,

With the April 6, 2010 announcement by U.S. Trade Representative Kirk and Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack of an agreement between the U.S. and Brazil over the cotton dispute, the need to overhaul our domestic commodity support programs is more apparent than ever. Among other commitments, the Administration has agreed to begin paying Brazil $147.3 million annually for “technical assistance and capacity building” to head off the threat of retaliatory tariffs on exports costing U.S. industry $560 million and unprecedented sanctions against U.S. intellectual property rights costing $260 million. We will subsidize both U.S. cotton farmers as well as Brazilian agribusiness until the issue is resolved or until the passage of the next farm bill, while Brazil retains its right to move forward with its countermeasures.

It is clear that the necessary authority to resolve this issue rests with Congress and we write to respectfully inquire about respective committee plans moving forward. Between the threat to American innovation from cross retaliation against intellectual property rights of U.S. companies and budgetary pressures that make the payments to Brazil all the more disconcerting, there is a growing need to make fundamental changes in the U.S. farm policy. Passage of the next farm bill is years away at best and at worst there is no guarantee that it will include sufficient reforms to prevent Brazil from putting into place the tariffs and sanctions they have deferred for now. We believe it is imperative that the Committees address this issue and request that your Committees consider legislation that would resolve the cotton issue in advance of the coming farm bill reauthorization. Alternatively, if the farm bill is deemed to be the appropriate process to address this issue, we urge the Committees to rank the cotton issue among your top farm bill priorities and ask that you commit to ensuring the inclusion of sufficient legislative reforms to put this matter to rest.

While the U.S. cotton program has undergone revision by both Congress and the Administration, these changes were insufficient to resolve the cotton issue. Now the stakes have been raised with a wide array of American businesses being used as a lever against the U.S. in Brazil’s authorized retaliation. It is clear that our agricultural subsidies are outdated and are quickly becoming a liability for future trade growth. We understand these matters are complex. However, without such a commitment or plans to deal with the issue in advance of the farm bill, it would unfortunately appear that the Administration’s actions will have only delayed the inevitable retaliation against American businesses and workers at the cost of $143.7 million per year.

We look forward to working with you to address the pressing need to reform the agricultural subsidy programs, and in particular the cotton programs, so that they will help rather than hinder international trade.



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