FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. - Ignoring the World Trade Organization when writing a farm bill amounts to letting the WTO set U.S. agriculture policies and could shut the country out of foreign markets, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said.
The farm bill, which is recast every six years as the underlying legislation that guides all U.S. government farm programs, comes up for review this year. Johanns is drafting the administration's farm-policy proposals.
Johanns told the National Agricultural Law Center at the University of Arkansas School of Law on Thursday that the WTO recently struck down U.S. programs on cotton, declaring them an unfair subsidy, and is reviewing U.S. corn and rice policies.
"It makes no sense to write farm policy that paints a bulls-eye on the back of our farmers," he said.
Scrutiny by the organization is a fact of life in international trade, and ignoring it in the ongoing revision of farming legislation is not wise, Johanns said.
"We're either going to write our policies in the U.S. with this in mind, or we're going to let the WTO do that" by striking out portions of U.S. farm policy it does not approve, he said.
The secretary, a former governor of Nebraska, also said during his talk that recent estimates of crop acreage show that U.S. farmers expect to plant 15 percent more corn this year than last.
"Two years ago, when I was governor, I read articles on the tremendous surpluses of corn," Johanns said. "There was a lot of worry about price and expectations of a bumper crop."
He said people thought then that farmers were going to have to store some of the corn surplus in their spare bedrooms, but that didn't turn out to be the case, as rising demand for ethanol drove an increase in corn prices.
"Although we don't know what growing conditions will be like, we're looking at a very large crop of corn," Johanns said. "This is the marketplace working."
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