Portman Urged To Resist Pressure On Food Aid Programs
Ahead of talks this week with European Union officials on how to revive the lagging Doha round of trade negotiations, Senate Agriculture Committee members today warned Bush administration officials to keep U.S. food aid programs intact. Senate Agriculture ranking member Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., urged Trade Representative Portman to resist pressure from the European Union and other trading partners to stop using surplus commodities for food aid to poor countries and focus on cash assistance instead. Portman indicated support for maintaining U.S. food aid programs, arguing that food aid was more likely to reach its intended recipients than cash because of corruption abroad. "The idea that we would go to cash and some of that food therefore would not make it to the people who need it is outrageous. Why would we do that?" he said. He and Agriculture Secretary Johanns, who also testified before the Senate panel, leave for Paris today. Portman underlined the need for major progress to establish negotiating modalities, including a formula for tariff reductions, prior to December's Hong Kong ministerial. "We're stalled in a sense. And we're really stalled going into the Hong Kong ministerial later this year," he said.
Portman and Johanns urged Congress to pass administration-backed legislation to comply with a WTO decision against the domestic cotton program. Portman said hurricane efforts might have delayed Congress' ability to comply, but he would continue to press for action. Johanns told reporters after the hearing that Congress should pass the bill to repeal so-called Step 2 payments to cotton farmers and not look for other avenues for compliance. "It's not about new approaches; this was the right approach," he said. The WTO had given the United States until Thursday to change its program to comply with the adverse decision.
Johanns told panel members that he believed Japan will soon allow U.S. beef imports to resume. Growing frustration among U.S. producers over the Japanese ban was punctuated by the Senate's adoption Tuesday of an amendment by Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., to restrict imports of Japanese beef into the United States. "It appears to me that the end is in sight, but it's been so painfully slow and so painfully deliberate," he said.
Of the Senate vote on the Nelson amendment, he said, "I'm not excited about it, but I understand the frustration."
-- by Martin Vaughan