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Other views: The Forum's WTO editorial was myopic, mean-spirited

In a Sept. 16 editorial, The Forum applauded the collapse of trade talks at the WTO meeting in Cancun. It cheered on the U.S. delegation, and "pro-farmer" politicians such as Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D., who resist even a reconsideration of the Uni...

In a Sept. 16 editorial, The Forum applauded the collapse of trade talks at the WTO meeting in Cancun. It cheered on the U.S. delegation, and "pro-farmer" politicians such as Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D., who resist even a reconsideration of the United States' agricultural subsidy and import-export policies.

Such myopia is depressing and mean-spirited. The editors at The Forum must know something of the damage that American and European Union agricultural policies do in the developing world.

The editorial claims those who scolded the rich nations for their greed have no coherent policy of their own. Hard to believe. Perhaps the editors could begin by looking at Oxfam International's position papers (at oxfam.org), including "Dumping Without Borders," on the profound effect of US payouts and tariffs on subsistence corn farmers in Mexico.

American taxpayers paid out over $10 billion dollars to the corn industry alone in 2000, much of it to corporations. American corporations then take surplus corn and sell it at such low prices that Mexican family farmers cannot compete. Faced with the destruction of their traditional way of life, untold thousands of men are leaving their families in the corn-growing regions in search of work. Many of these men will end up crossing illegally into the United States out of desperation.

When half of farm income comes from the government (which means you and I are paying Cargill and ADM), it's time to stop our misty-eyed talk about the family farmer and admit that agriculture is an industry, one with global implications.

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If a central goal of our agricultural policies is to protect family farmers, we need to ask why they are disappearing at home and abroad while corporations are profiting handsomely. Our leaders need to find a way to save family farmers in Mexico and Africa as well as in North Dakota. Dumping wheat in Africa and corn in Mexico is not the way and makes Americans look like global bullies.

For this job we need statesmen, not mere politicians. This is the real challenge for the WTO, Pomeroy and the agriculture committees: Can they dare to finally address the issues of subsidies, tariffs and dumping?

Walsh is an assistant professor in the New Center for Multidisciplinary Studies at Minnesota State University Moorhead. E-mail walshpa@mnstate.edu

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