11 January 2002

US defends farm support policies

US FARM secretary Ann Veneman indicated that the US is shifting its stance on agricultural support, claims a leading policy consultant.

Ms Veneman told the Oxford Farming Conference that the US was committed to seeking further reform to farming during WTO talks because doing so would benefit global trade. But the quest for freer trade did not automatically mean the end of support for farming, she indicated.

"There is nothing in the WTO which says countries cannot support agriculture. What it does talk about is the different ways it can be supported," Ms Veneman said. "It is a question of how support is given and whether it is market distorting."

She later added: "We cant complain if subsidies do truly fall within the green box."

Francis Mordaunt, head of business research at Andersons the farm business consultants, said the comments showed the US was moving away from the Cairns group and towards EU thinking. "Very clearly [US officials] have accepted the multi-functional argument and the need for agricultural support."

Opening the conference on Thursday (Jan 3), Ms Veneman said the diversity of farming in the 21st century meant new policies were needed to fit specific issues. "The one-size-fits-all approach to policy is clearly out-moded.".

Ms Veneman also suggested that the precautionary principle adopted by the European Union towards biotechnology should be reviewed. Standards based on "unsound science" ran the risk of confusing consumers and could delay the benefits of new technology to developing countries, she said.