Farm Foundation holds all-day trade conference |

Farm Foundation holds all-day trade conference

After Gregg Doud, the U.S. chief agriculture negotiator, spoke at the Farm Foundation conference, reporters surrounded him but he declined to discuss current negotiations.
Photo by Jerry Hagstrom/The Hagstrom Report

ARLINGTON, Va. – The Farm Foundation on April 30 held an all-day conference, “Agricultural Trade in a Time of Uncertainty,” that covered a variety of trade issues and featured several expert panels and speakers.

Roberto Azevêdo, director-general of the World Trade Organization, said in a video message from Geneva that the organization is taking a number of steps to try to modernize.

On a panel, Alan Wolff, an American who is deputy director-general of the WTO, agreed that “we have reform in the air in Geneva” and it “touches agriculture.” But he said members drive the process, not Azevêdo.

The “facts” surrounding agriculture have changed in the last 25 years, Wolff said, noting that the United States and the European Union used to be the biggest subsidizers, but now the emerging developing countries provide the most aid to their farmers.

The calls for reform in changing the WTO’s processes on agriculture vary from member to member, he explained. The United States is pushing transparency, while importing countries want reporting on restrictions that countries have on exports, he added.

Chad Bown, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics pointed out that if the Trump administration does not agree to the appointments to the appellate body by December, when two of the current three members of the body are scheduled to leave, the dispute resolution system will not function. Bown said there are process, philosophical and petty problems with dispute resolution.

The appellate body is having a hard time ruling on cases within its 90-day limit, and there are disagreements over the basis of its decisions, he said.

“What do you do when the appellate body gets decisions wrong, arguably wrong or politically wrong? Bown asked.

He described cases that the United States has brought (and lost) over the calculations on dumping as “petty.”

“It doesn’t make sense for Americans to blow up the entire system” over anti-dumping, countervailing duties and safeguards, Brwn said, but the cases are understandable because they involve steel and the DC trade bar is involved, as are Pennsylvania and Ohio, which are swing states in elections.

If the current dispute resolution system disappears, Bown said, there won’t be a rules-based system and the big countries will be more powerful.

“Every little trade skirmish out there could bubble up and become a much bigger deal than it needs to be,” he said.

Wolff noted that the House and Senate agree with the Trump administration “that the appellate body has gone off the rails” and said the resolution “will take a political settlement.”

Wolff noted that David Walker, a longtime WTO ambassador from New Zealand, is in charge of trying to resolve the differences on the appellate body and maintained “the process is working.”

Evan Rogerson of Nanyang Technological University in Singapore said no one is satisfied with the way that developed and developing countries are divided by status and the expectations of each group.

On a panel on U.S. agriculture, John Weekes of Bennett Jones, a Canadian firm, said that Canadian agriculture is enjoying the “uncharacteristic generosity” of the Trump administration’s decision to drop out of the Trans Pacific Partnership and leave “the spoils to the other parties.” But he said the situation is fraught with uncertainty because the United States is negotiating an agreement with Japan and could revive its interest in the agreement that Canada and the Asian countries have signed.

Nick Von Westenholz of the National Farmers Union in the United Kingdom said that British farmers are interested in post-Brexit free trade agreements with the United States, Australia, New Zealand and the Asian countries, but their highest priorities are to try to maintain access to the European Union countries where most of their exports go and to try to maintain the agreements that the EU has reached with other countries.

Bruce Hirsh of Tailwind Global Strategies said he does not think that removing the threat of auto tariffs on Japanese cars will be enough for Japan to agree to a quick deal with the United States on agriculture.

On a panel on the impacts of trade wars and retaliation, Dan Kowalski of CoBank said that the current trade conflicts are leading to new supply chains being built. U.S. agriculture will face more competition in the future due to the trade conflicts and increasing production in South America and the Black Sea countries.

Kowalski added that the presence of African Swine Fever in other countries is great for U.S. pork exports “as long as the virus does not come here.” But if it does come to the United States, “we would lose all our export markets and a whole lot of pork would have no place to go.”

Pete Kappelman of Land O’Lakes said that the Trump administration’s trade mitigation payments “only provided 10 percent” of what dairy farmers felt in the loss of exports.

“Bottom line: Exports are critical across the scope of American agriculture,” he added.

Joanna Lidback, a dairy farmer from Vermont who is part of the Global Farmer Network, said that U.S. dairy farmers had been gearing up to be major players. “It’s not just the carpet that is being pulled out from under us, it is the whole floor,” she said.

Another panel addressed sanitary and phytosanitary trade challenges.

The conference concluded with a discussion of the Trump administration’s approach to food and agricultural trade. That session featured Ted McKinney, USDA under secretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs, and Gregg Doud, chief agricultural negotiator in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

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