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Later this month, in 2006, and for years to come, American trade delegations will board planes for Hong Kong and other capitals to negotiate trade agreements on behalf of the United States.

Trade negotiators will advocate nuanced positions on everything from blue box payments to bound tariffs, but what they lack is a vision of agriculture as a global commodity that can be developed in ways that will benefi t farmers at home and abroad. Absent such a vision, American and European negotiators continue to squander opportunities for progress, as they have in the long-stalled Doha Development Round of trade negotiations under the World Trade Organization (WTO). At the same time, they feed into the worst fears of farmers from Kansas to Kenya – that these trade talks are focused not on people, but on politics and profits.

Those fears are well founded. While farmers everywhere hope for nothing more than a fair market price, the structure of international agriculture robs those same farmers of the opportunity to compete on a level playing fi eld. The conventional wisdom is that this is a zero-sum game – either the agricultural sector of the United States must go without a safety net or poor farmers around the world must surrender the hope of competing in the global market. This is a false choice.

Driven by the pressing need to trim the growing federal deficit and its legal obligations under the World Trade Organization, the current administration recently put an offer on the table to reduce American agricultural export subsidies. However, by proposing a subsidy cut without a complementary plan for the rural Americans who would be affected by it, the administration fuels the misperception that livelihoods at home must be sacrifi ced for the benefi t of people on the other side of the globe – and that trade hurts Americans. At a time when trade is growing more important to the future of the American economy, this is a perception we cannot afford to fuel.

The Center for American Progress has developed a strategy for breaking the impasse on trade and agriculture by focusing on two core beliefs. First, we believe that agricultural producers at home and abroad desire and deserve the same thing: a fair market price for their products. Second, we believe that any sustainable solution must be rooted in the ability of agricultural producers everywhere to compete in a fair global market. Building on these realities, we can honor our legal obligations, build a functioning global trading system, ensure that the world’s poorest countries have a shot at participating in a fast-moving global economy, and guarantee that American farmers have access to growing and vibrant markets.

Here’s how we do it. Instead of simply abandoning those small farmers who depend on the subsidy safety net – as the President seems to have done – we propose that America move quickly to make substantial and comprehensive investments in the domestic production of biofuels and bioproducts.

Significant economic growth in the United States has always come through a combination of innovation and far-sighted investment. By dramatically increasing investment in the research, development, and deployment components of a large-scale agriculture-based energy sector and providing the incentives and risk-management tools that can support the transition to new crops, the U.S. government and private sector can transform the lives of America’s small farmers. Simultaneously, we can reduce our costly dependence on foreign oil and pave the way for greater energy security. Clean energy from agriculture will also be critical in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and preventing dangerous climate destabilization. And, fi nally, by developing a new competitive edge and creating new domestic markets, we can free up other commodity markets to the developing world and help to ensure that the world’s poorest farmers can fairly compete.

The essays in this book lay out the details of how we can and must proceed, and many people have contributed to this effort. I would like to thank Jason Clay of the World Wildlife Fund for an opening chapter on trends in global agriculture that will surprise many but should inform us all. Here at the Center, these essays are the work of a team led by Gayle Smith and including Jake Caldwell, Ana Unruh Cohen, Bracken Hendricks, Kara Laney, Rebecca Schultz and Peter Ogden. My thanks to all of them.

John D. Podesta
President and CEO of the Center for American Progress

December 2005

Read the full report (PDF- 78 pages)

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