Is it possible for world trade leaders to finish World Trade Organization modalities by April 2006?
"The key word is possible," says newly confirmed U.S. Trade Representative Chief Agricultural Negotiator Richard Crowder. "We think it is possible. Is it probable? I'd hope yes. But there is a very intense timeline."
Crowder spoke to members of the American Farm Bureau Federation at a session specifically speaking to WTO negotiations. Crowder, confirmed in the Senate last week, shared that although talks seemed bleak after Hong Kong, it isn't the first time ministerial meetings were unsuccessful.
In 1989 to 1992 he served as Under Secretary of International Affairs & Commodity Programs for the USDA. He played leadership roles in negotiating agriculture in the Uruguay Round of the GATT and in managing the 1990 Farm Bill process.
The timeline then was very similar to the current situation. A future farm bill was waiting to be written and world trade talks stalled in December 1990 in Brussels. In 1989 there was no decision on export subsidies and the U.S. farm bill at the time did not even provide producers planting flexibility.
"If you look at what's been done over the years, we've come a long way," Crowder says. "Despite intense moments and intense schedules it is important that we don't talk in such a way about 'if' but 'how' to get the job done. That'll be my focus," he adds about his new job.
Similar to the 1990 time, the farm bill and ongoing world trade organizations are not independent but also not interdependent of each other, Crowder says.
When asked whether Brazil's cotton case "emboldened" other countries to challenge other U.S. cotton programs, Crowder replied that future cases against U.S. corn, rice and soybean programs is a "real risk as we move forward" if WTO talks fail.
Adopting change in U.S. farm policy is possible and feasible, Crowder says. Our agenda does call for adjustments, and for them to come quickly, he adds. "But if everyone is playing by the same rules it makes that adjustment easier."