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Editorial de hoy del NY Times sobre el TLC

A Dead Heat for Last Place

Published: October 14, 2005
The European Union and Japan can now claim to be way out in front in the race to see just how little the rich countries can get away with offering when it comes to making good on promises to liberalize farm trade. As negotiations at the World Trade Organization dragged on in Geneva this week, Japan and Europe both objected to American terms when the United States proposed cuts in farm subsidies. Japanese officials refused point-blank to consider the American proposal that Japan cut its own subsidies.
During the negotiations, the E.U. trade chief, Peter Mandelson, actually warned against trying to do too much, as if such a thing was possible. «You have to be careful of overbidding in a round like this,» Mr. Mandelson said, presumably with a straight face.
France, worried that its farmers may actually have to compete without the government’s holding their hands, complained that Mr. Mandelson’s go-slow approach was actually too fast. Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said he didn’t like Mr. Mandelson’s making offers to open access to the E.U.’s agriculture market «without prior consultation with member states.» This came after France slammed the American proposal.
So let’s be realistic: the developed world funnels nearly $1 billion a day in subsidies to its own farmers, encouraging overproduction. That drives down prices and leaves farmers in poor nations unable to compete with subsidized products, even within their own countries.
In recent years, American farmers have been able to dump cotton, wheat, rice, corn and other products on world markets at prices that do not begin to cover their cost of production, all because of politicians – and at the expense of American taxpayers. Europe’s system is even worse: the United States’ farm subsidies are equal to only a third of the European Union’s.
The United States trade representative, Robert Portman, unveiled his proposal in Geneva on Monday to kick-start the farm trade talks, which are supposed to conclude – or at least come close to concluding – in December, when the W.T.O. has its big meeting in Hong Kong.
Mr. Portman’s proposal is a step in the right direction. The United States would slash the allowable farm subsidies by 60 percent. In return, Europe and Japan would cut their subsidies by 83 percent – a higher percentage because countries in Europe, along with Japan, have higher subsidies.
Mr. Portman’s offer includes some economic pain for American farmers, particularly those who grow corn and soybeans. But it doesn’t go far enough because it fails to address the long-term issues of declining commodity prices and the unchecked tendencies of some American farmers to overproduce because they know the United States government will bail them out.
Time is running out; the trade ministers have agreed to resume talks next week in Geneva. It is incumbent on developing countries to wring as much as they can from America and Europe on farm trade by using the leverage they have in these negotiations – namely the fact that big business on both sides of the Atlantic dearly wants an overall deal that will liberalize rules and lower tariffs on manufactured products, agriculture and services. Poor countries should refuse to sign onto a new world trade pact until the United States, Europe and Japan drastically cut their farm subsidies.

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