Guebert — Doha round of trade talks seem to be dead on arrival

In one episode of the 1970s TV series M*A*S*H, an eminently paranoid Army intelligence officer tags flag-waving Frank Burns a Communist sympathizer because Burns subscribes to flag-waving Reader’s Digest.

"Drop the a, e, r, and s from its title," explains the whacko officer to a shaking-like-a-leaf Burns, "and you have ‘Red Digest,’ comrade."

The scene comes to mind after reading press accounts of a late August farm bill forum in North Dakota.

At the gathering, House ag committee chairman Collin Peterson, guest of Sen. Kent Conrad, a senior Democrat on the Senate ag committee, was asked to explain how the 2007 House farm bill fits the Bush administration’s negotiating strategy in the Doha Round of endless world trade talks.

It fits fine, offered Peterson, because U.S. farm program spending under the 2007 House plan drops from a now WTO-legal $19 billion per year to an estimated $8 billion per year, or well within the 60 percent cut the Bush administration quickly conceded to WTO talkers a year ago.


A bigger story, Peterson asserted, is the now-80 percent cut in program benefits the White House wants "to... bail them out of this trade mess they are in. But... they are negotiating with themselves."

Translation: If the White House insists on deeper farm program cuts to jumpstart wheezing global trade talks, Capitol Hill aggies will kick the "h" out of Doha. And Doha without an "h," comrade, spells DOA: dead on arrival.

To emphasize that rock-hard position (firmly seconded by Conrad), Peterson added, "I would just defy anybody to tell me what is good for agriculture in any of those trade agreements we have agreed to."

The comment, reported DTN’s Chris Clayton, "spark(ed) a round of applause."

The White House and Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns either didn’t hear the applause or chose to ignore it because Johanns toddled off to Central America Sept. 4 to celebrate past trade triumphs there while Joseph Glauber, the latest in a shuffling line of White House ag trade negotiators, jetted to Geneva for weeks of world-class Swiss hospitality and mouth-to-mouth Doha resuscitations.

All of this we-need-trade-more-than-ever activity comes on the heels of U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that show American ag exports and farm income booming despite the seven years of fruitless yakking by World Trade Organization members.

On Aug. 31, USDA estimated American ag exports will soar to $79 billion this fiscal year (which ends Sept. 30), or $10.4 billion more than Fiscal Year 2006’s record $68.6 billion. USDA also forecasted Fiscal Year’s 2008’s ag exports at $83.5 billion, another record.

Johann’s used the fat rise to blow the Bush administration’s free trade bugle. "Trade agreements are having a huge impact," he said before plugging the need for Congress to pass pending deals with Colombia, South Korea, Panama, and Peru.


Despite his praise of free trade and climbing U.S. ag exports — up 41 percent since 2003 — Johanns somehow failed to mention the even faster rise of U.S. ag imports, up 53 percent, over the same period.

Free trade is, of course, a two-way street, and a $30 billion increase in American ag imports, from $45.7 billion in 2003 to an estimated $75 billion in 2008, forecasts brighter days ahead for foreign farmers in the vast, rich U.S. market.

Moreover, the two key drivers of this year’s (and next year’s) ag exports — tight global grain stocks and the plummeting value of the U.S. dollar on international markets —a re entirely reversible. When either stocks or the dollar’s value increase, as one or both will, so will the imports-to-exports ratio.

And those applauding North Dakota farmers and ranchers know it.

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