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US farmers urge EU, developing nations to end trade barriers, help WTO talks
Updated: 2005-12-13 14:52

American farmers know they will eventually lose government subsidies for their crops but in exchange they need Europe and the developing world to give them freer access to their markets, U.S. farm groups said Tuesday.

As World Trade Organization negotiators began haggling over how to break out of an impasse over tariffs, subsidies and other barriers to free trade, American farmers were among many urging that the talks in Hong Kong focus on a broad package that would open markets in both rich and poor countries to foreign goods and services.

"What will happen if the WTO talks stop? The real concern is that we will lose market access," Len Corzine, president of the US National Corn Growers Association, told reporters on the sidelines of the WTO talks. "We want to have market access for the next generation."

Talks remained deadlocked Tuesday, with developing countries blaming wealthy nations for not making deeper cuts in their subsidies to farmers.

Most criticism has been leveled at the European Union, which has offered an average 46 percent cut in farm tariffs but refused further concessions until developing nations offer reductions in their trade barriers on manufactured goods and services.

Hoping to catalyze negotiations, in October U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman proposed to eliminate export subsidies for U.S. farm products by 2010 and to cut by 60 percent the amount of domestic support the government provides U.S. farmers over the next five years.

In the meantime, the EU and Japan both have proposed allowing free market access for products from the world's least developed countries _ a move that could prevent an outright collapse of the talks but would put off dealing with more intractable issues.

"There are so many proposals on the table that reaching agreement on one issue without reaching agreement on the others is probably not the best way," said Patrick Boyle, president of the American Meat Institute.

"I think we need to go with a package," agreed Tom Camerlo, chairman of the U.S. Dairy Export Council. "We recognize that we will be asked to accept more dairy imports into the U.S. and we expect bigger cuts for higher tariffs in other markets."

"We have a difficult time accessing the European market for dairy products. The EU needs to go further," said Camerlo. Developing countries, led by Brazil and India, need meanwhile to say what they will do to open their markets to other types of products, he added.

"Under current trade policies, we still face significant barriers," he said.

Some American farm groups, such as the National Farmers Organization, worry that the proposals to slash agricultural subsidies and tariffs could drive many U.S. farms and ranches out of business. The group says corn and soybean farmers would be hit especially hard.

American consumers, however, would stand to benefit, as lower tariffs mean lower prices on food imports such as butter, milk, cuts of meat and many other products that are now priced higher because of prohibitive tariffs.

Government backing is woven into the industry _ lenders and producers alike plan accordingly, said Dean Kleckner, former president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.

But Kleckner, an Iowan corn, soy and hog farmer, and many others industry say they recognize that the days of hefty government support for the agriculture industry are numbered.

"We are building up to the idea that subsidies are going to be lower," Kleckner said.

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