24 January 2007

Harper challenges U.S.

The Harper government may be genuflecting to U.S. foreign policy, but it has at least mounted a significant challenge to American trade policy. Canada has registered a complaint with the World Trade Organization against the massive handouts the United States doles out to its farmers. Widespread global anger with American agricultural subsidies and the resultant distortion of world markets has led 32 countries to join us in the challenge with more rushing to get on board. We have been joined by countries from Nicaragua to Brazil to Australia to the 25-country European Union. A coalition of the willing, you might say.

After years of being defensive about the Wheat Board and supply management, it is refreshing to see us go on the offensive. But this is about more than us and our trade buddies. We have recognized for years that open, unsubsidized markets for agricultural products would do the Third World far more good than foreign aid. Other industrialized nations, not just the United States, are guilty of protecting their agricultural sectors, but U.S. protection is particularly egregious because so many of its major crops compete directly with Third World products, e.g. citrus, cotton, sugar, rice, etc. Handouts to American farmers drive prices so low many Third World farmers, whose governments can't afford subsidies, are hard-pressed to make a living.

If our government's action helps to give Third World farmers an even break, it will be a worthy effort indeed.

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