WASHINGTON -- International relief and development organization Oxfam America welcomed the Bush Administration's proposal for the 2007 Farm Bill as an encouraging step toward meaningful farm program reform. According to Oxfam, the Farm Bill should be redesigned to benefit more farmers rather than subsidizing the overproduction of certain commodities to the benefit of relatively few US producers and the detriment of poor farmers in developing countries.
"Secretary Johanns is to be commended for putting this proposal on the table," said Raymond C. Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America. "Current programs are doing little to help most of America's farmers and rural communities while hurting poor farmers in developing countries. The Secretary seems willing to move American agriculture in a new direction – one that is more consistent with international trade rules and will benefit conservation, nutrition, and rural development concerns."
Oxfam is also encouraged by the administration's added emphasis on support for beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers. Long neglected, these producers face impediments to entering and competing in agricultural markets which hinders their ability to make a living from farming. In addition, added emphasis on conservation program funding and opportunities to develop renewable sources of energy from agriculture will lead to more sustainable agricultural systems and enhance efforts to develop more secure energy sources in the US.
The current Farm Bill, which is set to expire this year, offers an important opportunity for needed reforms. Currently, more than two-thirds of America's farmers receive little or nothing from current agricultural subsidy programs. These subsidies encourage overproduction, with the surplus dumped on the international market, in turn lowering prices and undercutting the livelihoods of millions of poor farmers around the world. Such programs are widely viewed to be out of step with current international trade rules.
"Our trading partners are suing the US at the WTO, and they are winning. The US has already lost one case to Brazil on cotton subsidies and Canada recently lodged another complaint challenging US corn subsidies," said Offenheiser. "Without meaningful reform of existing programs, the US will continue to face legal challenges at the WTO."
In September 2004, a WTO dispute panel found that over three billion in annual cotton subsidies paid by the US were illegal under WTO rules. The case was brought by Brazil and supported by West African cotton-producing countries. Oxfam estimates that US dumping caused losses of almost $400 million between 2001 and 2003 for poor African cotton-producing countries, where more than 10 million people depend directly on the crop. A WTO ruling on retaliation measures is expected this spring.
"Unless reformed, existing commodity subsidies will hinder international trade negotiations, said Offenheiser.
"Failure in the Doha delays reforms that could help developing countries and undermines broader US economic interests."