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The Ag Agenda

December 2008

A Better Tool Needed for World Trade


Bob Stallman
President
American Farm Bureau
By Bob Stallman
President, American Farm Bureau

As any farmer or rancher knows, business success hinges in large part on the effectiveness of the equipment we use to get our jobs done. If one of our tools isn't working like it should, the logical thing to do is fix it. Or, if all else fails, replace it.

Negotiations to secure international trade reform are a critical tool for U.S. agriculture to remain competitive in the global marketplace. Unfortunately, our most important world trading mechanism – the Doha Round of World Trade Organization talks – is not working. Like we would with any broken tool in our shed, we need to replace the Doha process with a more streamlined and efficient structure to get the job done.

Wake-Up Call

The Doha Round, a multilateral trade negotiating system under the WTO, is stalled. With 153 member nations that must sign off on all trade deals, it is fairly easy to see why this tool needs improvement. That fact is even clearer when one considers the cold, hard fact that many of the WTO countries are not interested in furthering trade flows that benefit the entire world, but instead are focused on different goals.

Trade talks must be about increasing trade, not restricting it, and that is where the WTO talks are missing more than a few bolts. After numerous failed ministerial meetings, it’s time to wake up and realize the Doha Round needs repair. We need a new structure, some new wheels, to move our trade agenda forward.

First and foremost, we need to remove barriers hindering trade and damaging global economic markets. We can no longer sit by while those who resist opening markets further contribute to the world’s economic slowdown. Turning to protectionism or accepting existing barriers is never an answer.

We must develop a new format for like-minded countries that want to move ahead. WTO offers a good rules-based trading system that already exists and works well. While we may have different issues and ideas, we need to work together with interested parties to find a new path forward.

The Right Time

Now is the time to find a new approach to world trade. With a faltering economy, both domestically and internationally, trade can help alleviate some of our financial problems. Trade is an essential component of any global economic recovery.

Further, with a new administration and Congress taking office in January, it makes sense we hit the ground running. I am optimistic President-elect Barack Obama's administration will welcome ideas for a new approach to advance multilateral trade negotiations and open markets, especially as other world leaders look to hasten world economic recovery.

To jump-start the process, the American Farm Bureau Federation soon will begin discussions with both domestic and international business and trade leaders to determine the best path to move forward.

Trade is essential for farmers and ranchers. It's time we came up with a better-suited tool that offers U.S. agriculture brighter prospects for increasing global trade.