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President’s message

By Dave Carter

Did I miss something, or didn’t World War II end about 50 years ago?

You wouldn’t think so, based on the recent events surrounding the World Trade Organization (WTO) talks in Seattle. No, I don’t mean the protests in the streets, although that’s another story. I am referring to the official negotiations among the formal delegates to the trade talks.

The WTO, for the few folks that may not know, was created under the latest round of trade agreements as an international tribunal for administering the rules of global commerce. It is a powerful agency, which has been granted the power to enforce the global commercial code adopted under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. More than 130 nations formally participate in the WTO.

Cheerleaders of the WTO claim that the agency is helping to establish the ground rules for international free trade. Farmers Union and other critics have argued that it has little to do with free trade, and is instead serving as the leading force for international corporate consolidation.

Which brings me to my point about fighting World War II in 1999.

The U.S. negotiators in Seattle seemed obsessed with the notion that Europe and Japan are the root of all evil in the international trade arena. According to our negotiators, the utopia of free world trade will continue to elude us until we mount a massive assault upon the “trade distorting policies” of the Europeans and Japan.

Now wait a minute.

It seems that the so-called free trade nations like Canada, Australia, Brazil and Argentina are inflicting much deeper wounds on the ranchers and farmers of the Rocky Mountain West than is the European Union (EU) and Japan. Sure, we need to address the export subsidies utilized by the EU and Japan, but what about the dumping practices used by the free-traders?

Perhaps the attack on the EU and Japan has little to do with opening new markets for the products of American producers.

What seems to irritate our negotiators more than anything is the fact that Europe and Japan have made a conscious decision to promote a structure of dispersed, diversified, independent farms and ranches. They even invented the term “multifunctional” to describe the positive role that independent ranchers and farmers play in protecting the environment, supporting a strong rural community, and in providing consumers with safe, healthy food. And, they believe their customers ought to have an opportunity to decide whether they want to buy food produced with hormones or with genetically modified materials.

Our negotiators claim that these policies are “trade-distorting” and should be ruled illegal by the WTO. According to our trade bargainers, the only type of agricultural policy that should be allowed by the WTO would be a decoupled approach like the Freedom to Farm Act passed by Congress in 1996. And we all know how well Freedom to Farm is working for the average U.S. agricultural producer.

Perhaps it’s time to recognize that the Europeans and Japanese might actually be onto something good. After all, the notion of supporting profitable independent agricultural producers as lynchpins of healthy communities, healthy soil and a healthy food system seems to make a lot of sense.

Such a system makes it hard for the Monsantos and Cargills of the world to acquire raw materials at the cheapest costs and to market the finished products without regard to how that food was grown, or where it was grown, or whether it contains hormone additives or genetically modified materials.

Until the U.S. negotiators recognize the flaws of our position, they will continue to face stiff opposition from agriculture, from organized labor, and from the environmental community. And, until the WTO decision-making process is fundamentally reformed, future rounds of negotiations may be doomed to face the same chaos as occurred in Seattle.

It’s time to quit fighting World War II.

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