The thunderer lets fly

The NY Times blasts trans-Atlantic trade poli­cies: “Lis­ten­ing to these two [EU and USA] eco­nom­ic pow­er­hous­es snipe about who should be doing what is revolt­ing; nei­ther is doing any­thing real.” The paper is right, of course: the agri­cul­tur­al sup­port and pro­tec­tion poli­cies of the EC, Japan and the USA—not to men­tion India (the edi­to­r­i­al doesn’t)—are absurd, waste­ful and unfair to the poor. But what I want to see from the NY Times is an edi­to­r­i­al pol­i­cy that advo­cates the solu­tion and that stays the course rather than one that mere­ly puffs-up in indignation

The Times edi­to­ri­al­ist takes a big breath and blows real­ly hard in con­demn­ing the inac­tion in the Doha round of WTO negotiations

… So far it has been noth­ing but talk, talk, talk on trade. While the rich con­tin­ue their shame­ful obfus­cat­ing, poor coun­tries are priced out of the mar­ket. A few weeks ago, the Euro­pean Union’s trade envoy, Peter Man­del­son, actu­al­ly com­plained to reporters that Europe had been mak­ing more than its fair share of com­pro­mis­es in the W.T.O. talks. ‘This process of com­pro­mise has been a one-way street for well over a year,’ he said.”(New York Times)

Good stuff! Hooray! Trade groupies cheer.

But I real­ly doubt that Messrs Man­del­son and Port­man are cowed by this crit­i­cism. Protest politics—as those of us old enough to remem­ber it’s hey­day can recall—is invig­o­rat­ing, but it can’t change much in the absence of sus­tained, broad­ly sup­port­ed advo­ca­cy. It’s the real­i­ties on the ground—whether in the Mekong delta, Kansas or the Midi—that mat­ter. You have to be will­ing to address them and deal with the inter­ests they rep­re­sent before you can expect polit­i­cal lead­ers to reverse direction.

The WTO nego­ti­a­tions are not con­duct­ed in a vac­u­um. They don’t take a long time because the nego­tia­tors are obtuse or act­ing in bad faith (not all of the time, any­way). They take a long time because they must deal with hard prob­lems where there are a range of con­flict­ing inter­ests that mem­ber gov­ern­ments find it dif­fi­cult to resolve. It’s true that the con­flicts of inter­est, between farm­ers and con­sumers for exam­ple, have usu­al­ly been caused by inap­pro­pri­ate poli­cies in the first place. But his­tor­i­cal analy­sis alone doesn’t pro­vide con­tem­po­rary solution.

The NY Times needs to address the real issues in a sus­tained cam­paign for detailed changes in US poli­cies. Let’s see them demand that the U.S. gov­ern­ment rescind the $14 bil­lion in trade-dis­tort­ing sub­si­dies to farm­ers in the next farm bill (2008). Let the Times press Wash­ing­ton to drop the proposal—the heart of the prob­lems since Cancún—to squeeze $19 bil­lion into a “Blue Box” cat­e­go­ry of less dis­tort­ing support. 

It takes much more than one edi­to­r­i­al to snatch bil­lions back from the farm­ers’ pock­ets. Let’s see the NY Times sus­tain a case month-after-month for the USA drop its ridicu­lous import duties on cheeses (90% on grat­ed parme­san, for exam­ple) or its almost reli­gious pro­hi­bi­tion on com­pe­ti­tion from sug­ar imports or its sky-high duties on peanuts or cot­ton. It will take a lot of angry sup­port from con­sumers to get Con­gress to deny the lob­byies behind these bar­ri­ers the bil­lions they earn for a few thou­sand farmers.

Let’s see the NY Times stay on the sto­ry, push­ing the White­house to give the same pri­or­i­ty that it gave to an eco­nom­i­cal­ly triv­ial trade agree­ment with Cen­tral Amer­i­ca to a glob­al solu­tion to trade dis­tor­tions that help to make pover­ty a big­ger killer than ter­ror­ism ever was or ever will be.

Nev­er mind the ridicu­lous poli­cies of Japan or the EC or India. Let’s see the NY Times attack the prob­lem that is real­ly beset­ting the deci­sion-mak­ers in Washington—who almost cer­tain­ly agree that glob­al agri­cul­tur­al trade reform is well over­due: there is more effec­tive sup­port for pro­tec­tion and pub­lic sub­sidy to farm­ers in the Unit­ed States than there is for open mar­kets and fair competition.

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