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Bush won’t dissolve sugar jobs

Grand Forks Herald | Tue, Oct. 26, 2004

VIEWPOINT : Bush won’t dissolve sugar jobs

By Allen F. Johnson *

WASHINGTON - Handled with care. That is the best way to describe how the Bush administration has dealt with sugar in America’s international trade agreements. How this issue impacts the U.S. trade agenda is of vital importance not only to Minnesota’s 1,400 sugar beet farms, but also to the hundreds of thousands of other farmers and businesses in this state’s booming export economy.

President Bush believes that American sugar growers can compete with anyone when they have a level playing field, and that is why his top trade priority is to negotiate an end to export subsidies and substantial reductions in trade-distorting subsidies and trade barriers in the World Trade Organization.

In fact, the current round of WTO negotiations gives us an important chance to bring fairness to world agriculture and sugar trade. In July, Europe made a commitment at the WTO to end its massive export subsidies in agriculture, including over $500 million available for sugar export subsidies. Strong U.S. leadership was critical in producing this win for Minnesota’s sugar growers.

But progress in WTO talks can be halted by a single objection from any one of 147 members, no matter how small. This veto could hold America’s economy hostage and, without the prospect of the United States moving on other fronts, probably would ensure the WTO’s stalemate as countries use this veto without consequences. Therefore, we are complementing our WTO agenda with bilateral free trade agreements.

The administration has completed such pacts with 12 countries and is negotiating with 10 more. Collectively, these countries would amount to America’s third-largest export market and the sixth largest economy in the world. According to the American Farm Bureau Federation’s analysis, U.S. agricultural exports will increase roughly $2 billion under the agreements we have already negotiated. These exports will benefit beef, pork, poultry and many other products representing more than 90 percent of the Minnesota’s agricultural cash receipts.

In each of these negotiations, sugar is handled with unprecedented care because of the recognition that a one-size-fits-all approach won’t work. In our free trade agreement with Australia, we negotiated an outcome that left sugar out of the deal entirely. In our agreements with Chile and Morocco, provisions were negotiated that basically ensure there will be no sugar imports.

In our agreement with Central America, the U.S. tariff on imported sugar will stay in place. Only a small quantity of additional sugar - equivalent to about one day’s U.S. production - will be allowed under quotas. In negotiating even that amount, we ensured there would be tools available to us to protect the sugar program and our farmers. That’s important to President Bush, who supported the 2002 Farm Bill and implemented its sugar provisions, as compared to some in Congress who have pushed to eliminate the program altogether.

If we were to shut down America’s trade agenda and renege on our international commitments, that would carry huge costs for Minnesota’s thriving export economy, which grew at 8 percent last year. Central America is a bigger U.S. export market than Russia, India and Indonesia combined. Abandoning CAFTA would hurt leading Minnesota export industries such as feed grains, soybeans, pork, beef and poultry, dairy, medical equipment and information technology, all of which will get broad new access to Central America’s large and growing market under the agreement.

The president knows America can compete and win when the game is fair, and he will continue to pursue trade agreements that deliver on that promise. In the Bush administration, agriculture will not ever take a back seat to anyone.

* Johnson is the U.S. Trade Representative’s chief agriculture negotiator.

 source: GFH