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RMFU President calls for overhaul of WTO process

SEATTLE – The collapse of the Seattle round of World Trade Organization (WTO) talks in early December illustrates the failure of the process for establishing global trade policies, Rocky Mountain Farmers Union (RMFU) President Dave Carter observed after participating in events surrounding the negotiations.

Carter note d that dissention and unrest could plague future sessions of the WTO unless “the process comes out from behind closed doors.”

Carter was among a delegation of 33 Farmers Union leaders participating in meetings and activities surrounding the WTO talks. The Farmers Union delegation met with Sec. of Agriculture Glickman and other U.S. political leaders, held several meetings with agricultural trade officials from throughout the world, and participated in several briefings conducted by the official WTO negotiators. According to Carter, the meetings were conducted against the backdrop of secrecy surrounding the official negotiating sessions.

“The WTO process is designed to exclude public participation and input,” Carter noted. “It is a flawed system for developing policies to administer flawed trade laws.”

The Farmers Union president expressed frustration that U.S. negotiators seem intent on continuing to develop policies designed to benefit the interests of the transnational agribusiness corporations, rather than the concerns of independent agricultural producers.”

“The companies that provide inputs and market our commodities are profiting handsomely from the free-trade policies. But those policies are driving independent agricultural producers out of business while diminishing the food security and food safety standards for the American consumer,” Carter said.

Carter expressed frustration that U.S. negotiators seem overly concerned about the trading practices of the European Union and Japan, while ignoring the problems created by the so-called free trading bloc of nations.

The dumping policies of nations such as Canada and Argentina, rather than the European Union’s domestic agricultural support programs, are creating much more havoc among ranchers and farmers in the rural West, Carter told Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman during one of the meetings Farmers Union conducted in conjunction with the official talks.

“U.S. negotiators need to redirect some of their firepower from attacking the Europeans and Japanese, and start addressing the havoc being created by dumping policies of the so-called free trade nations,” Carter said. “Unfortunately, our negotiators seem to be obsessed with forcing the European Union (EU) to dismantle its domestic farm support programs.”

The Farmers Union delegation at the talks worked to establish relationships with farmers’ organizations from the EU and Japan to increase the recognition of the “multifunctional” role agriculture plays within a larger society. The EU and Japanese domestic policies are designed, in part, to maintain a diversified, dispersed structure of independent producers.

The Farmers Union leaders developed a working agreement with Japanese and European agricultural representatives: Future trade rules must recognize the “multifunctional” role that agriculture plays in providing benefits to society. “The Europeans and Japanese recognize independent agricultural producers provide a strong benefit to society in terms of food security, food safety, environmental protection, and rural communities. International trade rules need to support the multifunctional role of agriculture,” Carter said.

The WTO was established during the latest round of General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) to serve as the international tribunal for developing the rules of conduct for global trade. The WTO has authority to prohibit nations from establishing domestic policies that may be deemed to be “trade-distorting.” Carter noted that the WTO has the power to overrule Congress on a wide array of domestic policies.