More on Trade

MORE ON TRADE….Speaking of trade policy (see below), there’s little doubt that the biggest remaining distortion in global trade comes in the form of agricultural tariffs and (especially) subsidies. The European Union’s CAP program is at least as bad as anything we do — probably worse, in fact — but what we do is plenty bad. Daniel Imhoff provides a taste of what’s in store in our latest farm bill:

What can we citizens expect if the proposed $300-billion farm bill is signed into law? Federally subsidized feed — corn, soybeans and cottonseed — for animal factory farms that spread disease, greenhouse gases and dangerous working conditions wherever they set up shop. (Farm bill “environmental quality” programs will even pay up to $450,000 for the construction of lined “lagoons” to be filled with lethal concentrations of manure.) The continuation of America’s obesity campaign, which ensures the cheapest and most widely available foods are made up of such high-calorie ingredients as high-fructose corn syrup, refined flours, saturated fats and unhealthy meat and dairy products. And more federally backed exports of California’s water — in the form of cotton and rice, mostly sold overseas.

But here’s the one that’s really hard to stomach. More than $4 billion in permanent disaster assistance to growers in the Northern Plains. The brainchild of Montana Democrat and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, this is essentially a trust fund to guarantee income to farmers plowing up prairies and grasslands — lands prone to drought and erosion — to plant corn and wheat. Many observers fear a second Dust Bowl.

Question: which is more important to the cause of free trade: (a) passage of the Colombian trade pact or (b) reining in the monstrosity that is U.S. farm policy? The answer is (b) by several light years. So why do we hear so much about the dire consequences of failing to pass a piddling bilateral trade deal with a ruthless Latin American regime but almost nothing about the dire consequences of the hideous $300 billion distortion caused by the latest round of farm subsidies — most of which goes to big agribusiness, not struggling family farms? How about a little more noise on the farm front?