European Affairs

An American Perspective: Time to Put a Human Face on Farm Trade     Print Email
Calvin Dooley

The future of US agriculture - and of the California farming district I represent - is going to be increasingly dependent on our access to growing international markets. From a US perspective, you do not have to be a rocket scientist to understand that. We have only 4 percent of the world's people living inside our borders, and anyone who looks around at our population can see that they cannot eat any more food and they cannot wear any more clothes. They are pretty well fed. If we want more market opportunities, we have to find ways to access the 96 percent of the world's population that lives outside our borders.


One of our greatest opportunities for agricultural exports is going to be in the developing countries. As incomes rise in these countries, well over 30 to 40 percent of the increase will be spent on food products, enhancing the quality of life. We have an opportunity to expand economically as well as deal with the food security interests of people throughout the world by finding ways to expand agricultural trade. We still have more significant barriers in agriculture than in any other sector because agricultural tariffs are still usually five times higher than those of industrial products.

But the international playing field is not level. Many of my colleagues on the Agriculture Committee blame the European Union, which spends almost half its budget on the Common Agricultural Policy. Especially troubling are Europe's export subsidies. The fact that the EU has been identified in some statistics as supplying about $6 billion in export enhancement, which constitutes about 85 percent of all worldwide export subsidies, causes concern among many of my colleagues in the United States.

It is no secret that incredible pressure is being put on the Administration, and I think rightly so, to make the reduction and elimination of export subsidies our highest priority for negotiations on agriculture in the World Trade Organization. I hope this is an area in which we can make significant progress. I would say, it is absolutely critical that we make progress if we are to expand US agricultural trade.

 

This article was published in European Affairs: Volume number I, Issue number I in the Winter of 2000.



There is also going to be great interest in seeing how far we can ensure that domestic programs do not distort international competition. I have some difficulty making this statement after we recently passed an $8.7 billion agriculture disaster bill. While it was structured so as to have minimal impact on agricultural trade, it is still government dollars going into the agriculture sector. It helps some farmers to stay in business and, thereby, creates some production that can affect international trade. There is work that the United States has to do, as well as the EU, to ensure that we provide an appropriate level of support for our domestic farming interests, but, at the same time, do not artificially distort the relative advantages that one country might have over another in the international trading arena.

It is also important for us to find a way to put a more human face on agricultural trade, and trade in general. The question is: Can we move forward with an agenda that really tries to define the issue broadly in terms of food security? When we look at some of the challenges we face around the world and the human suffering that has occurred because of the inability to move food to certain regions, should we be looking at export subsidies and domestic programs and policies in a context of how they affect food security?

In Asia, for instance, if we cannot convince China and other countries that they do not have to be 100 percent self-sufficient in food production, they are going to maintain domestic programs that will not necessarily be market-based. If we can, collectively, demonstrate that there will be a reliable supply of food to these emerging areas, I think we can go a long way to ensuring that a lot of the developing countries do not invest in domestic programs that could distort the international marketplace. China is a terrific example. But if you look at Asia, besides China, there are about 2.8 billion people in the region who currently consume about 28 grams of meat-protein a day. This compares to about 75 grams a day in the United States. We are probably on the top end, but Japan is at about 65 grams. If you look at what is, hopefully, going to occur in the coming decades, in terms of improvement in the quality of life, disposable incomes, and the quality of diet, you will see a significant increase for those 2.8 billion Asians from 26 grams to something closer to what we have in the United States and Japan. They do not have the resources to do that. They do not have the arable land.

If you look at China today, there are six times more people living on every arable acre of land there than in the United States. With population growth, in another two decades it is going to be eight times as many people. Without significant reallocation of resources, in a manner that is unlikely to be market oriented, they cannot maintain self-sufficiency in food production and improve the quality of their diet. If, under the auspices of the WTO, we can reframe the issues of agricultural trade in the context of food security, we can probably make some progress. And this can benefit not only the agricultural sectors in our own countries, but also provide much needed nutrition to a lot of children who are struggling.

Finally, there is another very difficult issue for all of us, of which we are becoming increasingly aware in the United States - the issue of genetically modified food products. We have been watching with interest over the last couple of years what has transpired in Europe. It is of great concern to us because US farmers have moved rapidly to adopt and incorporate a lot of these products into their operations. Up to 50 percent of our soy beans and one-third of our corn have been using some of these types of seeds, which provide benefits, at this present time, primarily to the farmers.

We do not want to turn our backs on this technology. While its benefits now are primarily on the production side, we are moving into a new generation of genetically modified products that will provide significant nutritional and health benefits to consumers. We need to develop a process and a strategy so that we can collectively try to resolve some of these issues now. We need to be careful that we do not set this technology back so far that we fail to maximize the potential nutritional benefits this new science and technology can provide to all of the citizens of the world.

I am a little concerned that we have not seen a strategy developed in this country, or with our partners in Europe, to really try to define a process where we can sit down and collectively attempt to find a way to resolve some of these issues. If labeling is required, as it is mandated in Europe now, what are the criteria for that? How do we really set out to try to find a way to answer some of the concerns that are being shared by consumers in Europe, as well as those we expect to see in the United States? We hope to maintain a science-based approach. We may need to provide consumers more information. But I think it is imperative to address this problem. Along with many of my colleagues on both the Republican and the Democratic side, I am committed to trying to rebuild a solid majority in Congress to expand trade opportunities. We think that will be good both for the United States and for the rest of the world.

 

This article was published in European Affairs: Volume number I, Issue number I in the Winter of 2000.