06 August 1999
NFU slams ‘hypocritical’ US farm aid plans

By Philip Clarke, Europe Editor

MOVES by the US government to conjure up another multi-million-dollar aid package for its farmers have been branded hypocritical this side of the Atlantic.

“No longer can the US claim the moral high ground when it comes to farm subsidies,” said Martin Haworth, policy director fore the National Farmers Union.

It is less than a year since Washington last doled out $6 billion (£3.7bn) in emergency aid, he added.

“We always doubted their claims that was a one-off payment. This now proves it.”

His comments followed news from the USA this week that the senate was close to approving a new rescue plan in response to the worsening farm crisis.

Two packages were on the table – one from the Republicans, valued at almost $7bn (£4.3bn), and one from the Democrats worth nearer $11bn (£6.8bn).

US officials were quick to point out that a senate agreement was only the start of the legal process.

A Bill fixing the actual aid would still have to go to the House of Representatives, and then the White House for final approval.

But with elections due next year, and the farm vote highly sought after, little opposition is expected from the Clinton administration.

Farm lobby groups have been claiming up to $17bn (£10.5bn) after another year of low prices and widespread drought.

But US accusations that European Union export subsidies are forcing down world commodity values were dismissed by Mr Haworth.

“The level of subsidies granted by the EU has diminished significantly since the last GATT agreement,” he said. “The current state of world markets cannot be blamed on export restitutions.”

If the aid package does go through unchallenged, it could turn out to be good news for EU farmers, said Robert Gooch of Brussels consultants, Eurinco.

“It is obvious that the Freedom to Farm Act has broken apart at the seams, due to continuing low world prices, and that seriously weakens Washingtons position going into the next round of world trade talks.”

A spokesman at the US trade mission in Brussels rejected the claim that Washingtons position was being compromised.

He said that the extra aid was totally eclipsed by the level of support paid to EU farmers.