FOR CHILDREN TURNED LOOSE on the playground, one of the hardest principles to teach is “playing fair.” There are the “Big Bullies” and the “Tiny Tims” of the playground, all jockeying for their place on the monkey bars.
It seems as our world gets smaller, a playground full of wild children might be a good analogy for the increasingly contentious debates on world ag trade.
Of course many countries are calling the United States the Big Bully of the playground. The Tiny Tims of the world blame their problems, not on their often-antiquated politics and economics, but on Big Bully United States.
For some good reasons, we hate being called the Big Bully on the world stage, and we do a lot to avoid it. But it seems that for many countries, particularly in the developing world, Big Bully is all they care to call us.
At U.S. House of Representatives hearings in June, boosting Africa’s agricultural trade was discussed. House International Relations Subcommittee on Africa chairman Edward Royce (R-CA) blamed the U.S. farm bill for adversely affecting developing countries. He said: “These (farm bill) subsidies encourage overproduction, depressing world market prices and reducing the competitiveness of African agricultural products, both domestically and as an export.”
The president of the largest cotton producing country in West Africa, Mali, provided a written statement to the subcommittee’s hearing, which cited ag subsidies as a principle cause of depressed prices. Mali, along with three other West African countries, have already petitioned the World Trade Organization to eliminate U.S. farm program benefits to U.S. cotton.
While speaking at the World Bank Forum last year, National Cotton Council president Mark Eange took up the issue. He said: “The cotton-growing West African governments extract the equivalent of extraordinary export taxes from their own growers…This situation is actually foreign government revenue management (taxation) that is in no way associated with U.S. farm programs.”
Meanwhile, not wanting to be called Big Bully, our government’s trade policy has virtually sacrificed the U.S. textile industry, which was once home to the majority of our domestic cotton. Recently, U.S. trade negotiators signed an agreement with Vietnam, which will allow a flood of their textiles into our domestic market. Vietnam’s government-owned and subsidized textile sector will have access to about $12 billion worth of our market – the largest amount ever in an initial textile trade agreement. But, hey wait, I thought subsidies were bad!
Maybe this agreement will make others less likely to call us the Big Bully of the world trade playground. I doubt it, but one thing is for sure we Americans will be wearing a lot of clothes in the coming years with tags that state “Made in Vietnam.”
You may e-mail Frank Giles at email@example.com.
Copyright Meister Publishing Company Jul 2003
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