Carl has written a response to an article posted on this Blog in September, 2009, Watch out for Protectionism. It includes very good points so it is posted in full below. Thanks Carl.
FREE TRADE, the WTO AND SUBSIDIES. This story reminds one of Ronald Reagan’s favorite descriptions of what happens when the Federal Government gets involved with a once profitable and productive industry: they tax it, they regulate it and end up subsidizing it!
WSJ: The Madness of Cotton (May 2010)
The Feds Want U.S. Taxpayers to Subsidize Brazilian Farmers….
U.S. cotton farmers took in almost $2.3 billion dollars in government subsidies in 2009, and the top 10% of the recipients got 70% of the cash. Now Uncle Sam is getting ready to ask taxpayers to foot the bill for another $147.3 million a year for a new round of cotton payments, this time to Brazilian growers.
We realize that in today’s Washington this is a rounding error. But the reason for the new payments to foreign farmers deserves attention. If it becomes a habit, it is unlikely to end with cotton.
Here’s the problem: The World Trade Organization has ruled that subsidies to American cotton growers under the 2008 farm bill are a violation of U.S. trading commitments. The U.S. lost its final appeal in the case in August 2009 and the WTO gave Brazil the right to retaliate.
Brazil responded by drafting a retaliation list threatening tariffs on more than 100 U.S. exports, including autos, pharmaceuticals, medical equipment, electronics, textiles, wheat, fruits, nuts and cotton. The exports are valued at about $1 billion a year, and the tariffs would go as high as 100%. Brazil is also considering sanctions against U.S. intellectual property, including compulsory licensing in pharmaceuticals, music and software.
The Obama Administration appreciates the damage this retaliation would cause, so in April it sent Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Miriam Sapiro to negotiate. She came back with a promise from Brazil to postpone the sanctions for 60 days while it considers a U.S. offer to—get this—let American taxpayers subsidize Brazilian cotton growers.
That’s right. Rather than reduce the U.S. subsidies to American cotton farmers that are the cause of the trade fight, the Administration is proposing that U.S. taxpayers also compensate /Brazilian/ cotton farmers for the harm done by the U.S. subsidies. Thus the absurd U.S. cotton program would dip into the Commodity Credit Corporation to pay what is a bribe to Brazil so it won’t retaliate.
Talk about taxpayer double jeopardy. As Senator Richard Lugar (R., Ind.) said recently, the commodity credit program was established to assist U.S. agriculture, “not to pay restitution to foreign farmers who won a trade complaint against a U.S. farm subsidy program.”
Mr. Lugar wants the subsidies to U.S. farmers cut by the amount that will have to be sent to Brazil. He adds that a better option would be to take on the trade-distortions of the cotton program. “I am prepared to introduce legislation to achieve these immediate reforms,” he wrote in an April 30 letter to President Obama.
This is probably tilting at political windmills, since Mr. Obama has shown no appetite for trade promotion, much less confronting a cotton lobby supported by such Democrats as Arkansas Senator Blanche Lincoln. (CEH: she’s now in a runoff primary for her Senate seat)
But we’re glad to see that at least Mr. Lugar is willing to call out the absurdity of U.S. taxpayers subsidizing foreign farmers to satisfy the greed of a few American cotton growers.