Statement from Raymond C. Offenheiser, President Oxfam America on the current trade talks underway in Hong Kong and the current budget reconciliation debate on Capitol Hill.
“Two major opportunities have surfaced this week to help millions of people living in poverty in America and in developing countries: the budget reconciliation on Capitol Hill and the World Trade Organization's Ministerial in Hong Kong. These two debates carry so much potential.Sadly, both miss the mark.
“Through the budget process, Members of Congress could choose to advance policies that would help small farmers in the US and developing countries by shifting money away from misguided commodity payments into more nutrition and conservation programs. Not only would this improve a system that benefits huge agribusinesses and hurts family farmers, it would also send the right message to negotiators in Hong Kong that the U.S. is serious about subsidy reform and a balanced trade policy.
“Similarly, the WTO negotiations offer a chance to help people living in poor countries and American farmers by reforming our trade laws to help - not hurt - the world's poorest people. To do so, the US and other wealthy nations must agree to reform a system that bleeds billions of dollars a year in the form of agricultural subsidies; most to the wealthiest producers.
“Yet both processes are leaning toward different choices that maintain the status quo and fail to provide relief for those who need it most. Congress has decided it would be wiser to find its budgetary savings by cutting conservation programs and food stamps. On the other side of the world at the Hong Kong Ministerial, the wealthiest nations are not willing to make the concessions promised long ago, led by the European Union, who won't budge on negotiations to grant access to largely closed agricultural markets.
“A misguided budget process in Washington only contributes to the stalled talks in Hong Kong. The U.S. Congress should reinforce efforts to move subsidy reform forward in international negotiations by limiting subsidies in the federal budget.
“For example, last month, Senators Grassley and Dorgan made an effort to cap payments to our largest farmers including the large cotton farmers. This effort failed to pass in the Senate which now hinders the ability of the US to negotiate subsidies with confidence at the WTO Ministerial. The US delegation to the Ministerial needs the full support of the US Congress here at home if they are going to successfully drive meaningful trade reform on the world stage.”