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Trade talks afford either party chance to lead in defending farmers

March 5, 2013 - Mike Maneval
To revisit a matter I addressed here within the past couple weeks, while honing in on one specific shortfall, just as scant of detail, the impact of a trade deal with European Union member-states is equally promising and troubling. And both the Republican and Democratic parties have an opportunity now to take the reins and steer the pact's course towards promise, rather than trouble.

President Barack Obama indicated in his State of the Union address that such a trade deal would be a key component of his second term's economic agenda. But little was said of what the deal would comprise, including any clues as to what such a deal would mean for agricultural subsidies.

Democratic Senator Max Baucus of Montana, writing an opinion piece Sunday for the Financial Times, didn't bring any clarity to the matter. While he could delve into specifics on erasing barriers in European partner-nations to genetically modified foods produced in America, his commentary made no mention of subsidies at all. Likewise, an analysis by the Atlantic Council of the U.S., released Tuesday, also declined to mention agricultural subsidies, though author and council associate director Garrett Workman said "the timing for a transatlantic deal could not be better," and that the private sector is "keen to streamline regulation."

An earlier report to which I referred, by the New Times' Nicholas Kulish and Jackie Calmes, indicates farmers fear the negotiations on Europe trade pact could shrink or otherwise hamper agricultural subsidies. And with the U.S. struggling with mountainous debt, the temptation to press authorities on both sides of the Atlantic to reduce aid to farmers likely will be massive. Yet, if America's leadership shifts the burdens of sacrifice on to this one, hard-working portion of the workforce, it should be a catalyst for embarrassment.

But there still is time for either party to embrace new ideas, including possibilities such as new, more accessible insurance programs for agricultural products, low-interest or no-interest lending to independent farms, or federal grants to schools and local and state agencies for more purchasing of domestically produced food. Replacing, within the new trade deal, an outdated and costly model of subsidizing farms with better methods for protecting America's farmers is an opportunity for either the Republicans or Democrats to show real leadership. We only can hope they take it.


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