Senate Agriculture Committee Snubs Global Poor

By mborum

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WASHINGTON — As the Senate Agriculture Committee considered the 2007 Farm Bill, Raymond C. Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America, made the following statement:

"While Oxfam welcomes critical new investments in nutrition, conservation and renewable energy, the Farm Bill approved by the Senate Agriculture Committee today failed to reform our unfair and broken system of commodity subsidies that undercut farmers and rural economies at home and abroad. Unless the rest of the Senate intervenes, our taxpayer dollars will continue to encourage excess production, reduce world market prices and undermine the livelihoods of millions of small farmers around the world.

"Cotton subsidies maintained by the Agriculture Committee are especially troubling, with just 12,000 farms receiving up to three billion dollars in subsidies annually. These subsidies have a devastating effect on poor cotton farmers around the world. Failure to reform these trade-distorting subsidies will mean that those who don’t need subsidies in the United States continue to benefit at the taxpayers’ expense while those who need the most help—the 10 million people in West Africa for whom cotton is their only source of income—suffer more. Cotton is often the only source of cash income for these families, most of them living on less than $1 a day.

"Not only is this unfair, it is in violation of existing trade rules. Just last week, the WTO confirmed that the US hasn't done enough to reform its cotton subsidies in a longstanding dispute with Brazil. Most shockingly, the Committee bill reinstates a new version of the contentious Step 2 export subsidy that was done away with by the last Congress. Failure to reform our cotton program leaves our agriculture and other sectors vulnerable to significant retaliation from our trade partners and undermines American farmers' access critical to overseas markets.

"While doing little to nothing to address the needs of the global poor, Chairman Harkin and the members of the Agriculture Committee did make incremental improvements to address inequities faced by farmers of color here at home. This bill would provide a host of critical provisions beneficial to socially-disadvantaged producers—though more work needs to be done to ensure that the funding for these provisions is mandatory.

"Oxfam commends Senator Lugar for standing bravely against the status quo during the Committee mark-up by offering an amendment to require corrective action for any commodity program found in violation of WTO rules. Senator Lugar withdrew his amendment when Chairman Harkin offered to address the issue in his manager’s amendment. Though a good first step, the Senate must be prepared to address the issue on the Senate floor. Failure to do so will continue this gross inequity while endangering the future of other US trade agreements. We hope that the full Senate is prepared to lead where others have failed thus far."

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