Farm groups push for progress on Ag issues at Nairobi WTO talks

By Daniel Enoch

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WASHINGTON, Dec. 16, 2015 - A coalition of agricultural organizations led by the American Soybean Association is urging Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman to work toward positive outcomes for agriculture in the World Trade Organization ministerial negotiations going on this week in Nairobi, Kenya.

In a letter to the two officials, the groups noted longstanding differences on market access and domestic support among the participating countries in the talks, which are officially part of the Doha round of WTO negotiations that began back in 2001. And they called on U.S. negotiators to conclude the Doha round at the Nairobi talks, which are scheduled to run through Friday.

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Their letter strongly supports U.S. efforts to eliminate export subsidies (including by the European Union and Canada), reform export credit programs, and eliminate State Trading Enterprises.

 “Such an agreement would continue global momentum established in these important areas and prevent countries from backsliding on their past policy changes,” the groups said. At the same time, they cautioned against weakening such rules in developing nations, specifically noting subsidies by Brazil and other emerging nations for transportation, handling and processing costs for exported commodities.

“This issue is critically important because we believe certain competitor countries could use the provision as legal cover for programs they are currently using to compete unfairly with U.S. exports,” wrote the groups. “For example, India subsidizes transportation costs for exported sugar, and Brazil uses its PEP and PEPRO programs to subsidize various commodities into traditional U.S. markets.”

Finally, the letter urged the elimination of residual export subsidies in the agricultural sector, but warned against language that would legitimize subsidies in developing nations.

Signatories to the letter include the American Farm Bureau Federation, American Sugar Alliance, National Association of Wheat Growers, National Barley Growers Association, National Corn Growers Association, National Cotton Council, National Milk Producers Federation, National Sorghum Producers, National Sunflower Association, USA Rice, U.S. Canola Association, U.S. Dairy Export Council, U.S. Grains Council, U.S. Soybean Export Council and U.S. Wheat Associates.

Meanwhile, halfway through this week's talks in the Kenyan capital, the negotiations appeared to be deadlocked over whether new issues - possibly involving labor standards, climate change and investment -- should be introduced, or whether the original Doha agenda, which focused on helping the poorer nations, should be pursued.

Representing the Africa Group, Lesotho Trade and Industry Minister Joshua Setipa said there's no way WTO will remain credible if issues affecting developing countries are not dealt with at the negotiating table.

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“The choices are clear. Reaffirm the Doha work program or condemn it. For Africa, turning away from the Doha work program and the broader negotiations architecture, on African soil, is a highly unacceptable preposition,” Setipa told Wednesday's ministers' plenary session.

The Doha agenda, being pushed by the developing countries for the last 14 years, includes major reforms in agriculture, particularly reduction in subsidies and tariff provided by developed countries, special treatments for Least Developed Countries, and trade facilitation agreements, among others.

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