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Current Developments in U.S. Agricultural Trade & Policy

The most important initiative affecting U.S. agricultural trade policy today is the development of a new farm bill. Congress writes a new farm bill once every four or five years, the most recent being the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 (PDF file).

The Senate is expected to vote in June on its version of the 2012 farm bill, which eliminates direct payments to farmers and is instead based on a subsidized crop-insurance scheme. It is not yet certain whether the House version of the bill will be developed in time for consideration in 2012, or will be postponed either to a post-election "lame duck" session or to the 113th Congress (2013-2014).

There is close to zero expectation that the Doha Round will have much impact on this process. The closest that the agricultural negotiations in Geneva came to producing a deal was the very incomplete text on modalities (Word document) that was issued in December, 2008, and there is little sign that they will go any farther in the foreseeable future.

In the April 9 WTR (Vol. 28 No. 12) we catalogue the complaints that U.S. agriculture, food, and beverage interests have lodged against other countries, and how these may form the basis of future disputes.

Trade in Agriculture: Key Terms

The following are the most significant terms in the Dictionary of Trade Policy regarding trade in agriculture and related topics:
 

Acceptable Level of Risk Multifunctionality
Aggregate Measurement of Support Peace Clause
Agricultural Products Producer Subsidy Equivalent
Boxes Quota
Cairns Group Risk Assessment
Codex Alimentarius SPS Measures
Common Agricultural Policy Special Products
Domestic Support Special Safeguard
Export Competition Tariffication
Food Security Tariff-Rate Quota
Geographical Indications Three Pillars
Modalities Variable Levy

In addition to these terms, many of those related to non-agricultural market access apply equally to market-access issues in agriculture.

:: Agricultural Agreements in the WTO :: Agriculture in the Doha Round :: U.S. Agricultural Laws

The WTO Agreement on Agriculture is the principal agreement in this area. See also the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures, as wel as other WTO agreements and instruments on trade-related measures (e.g., the Decision on Measures Concerning the Possible Negative Effects of the Reform Programme on Least-Developed and Net Food-Importing Developing Countries).

WTO members made commitments in the Uruguay Round in each of the "three pillars" of agricultural negotiations; these can be accessed on-line in Excel format at the WTO's posted Schedules of Concessions on Goods.

The U.S. agricultural commitments from the Uruguay Round are listed in a series of spreadsheets. The market-access commitments(i.e., tariff concessions) are listed in one that covers agricultural products up to item 2007.99.75, and another that covers all other agricultural items. See also the commitments that the United States made in the Uruguay Round on domestic support (i.e., production subsidies) and on export subsidies. (Note: Each of the links in this paragraph are to Excel spreadsheets that are, for cosmetic purposes, modified from those posted on the WTO website.)

See also the Constitution of the Food and Agriculture Organization.

The following are among the many documents produced in the thus-far fruitless negotiations over agriculture in the Doha Development Agenda of the WTO:

See the U.S. negotiating objectives on agriculture, as established by the Trade Act of 2002, as well as special provisions regarding consultations with Congress in this area.

While the commitments made in the WTO set the limits on the amount of domestic support and export subsidies that a member can provide, a country generally enjoy wide discretion in determining how close it will come to its limits and how the support will be allocated to different programs and commodities.

In the United States this is done through periodic farm bills, most of which have 4-6 year lifespans. The most recent of these is the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008, which replaces the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002. (Note: Both links lead to large PDF files.) Efforts are now underway to draft a 2012 farm bill, though it it uncertain whether the initiative will be completed this year.

See also the laws governing Imports and Exports of Foods and Drugs. For other laws relating to product safety and other aspects of compliance, see the CENTRAL guides to Labor and the Environment and to Security, Sanctions, and Compliance.