By John Rumsey in São Paulo, Frances Williams in Geneva and Eoin Callan in Washington
Published: July 27 2007 23:19 | Last updated: July 27 2007 23:19
Brazil on Friday claimed victory in its latest assault on US cotton subsidies at the World Trade Organisation, underscoring warnings by the Bush administration that the subsidy-laden farm bill under consideration by Congress risks triggering a wave of trade disputes.
Brazil said a confidential interim ruling by a WTO panel had gone in its favour.
The panel, due to issue its final decision in September, was set up last year to judge whether the US had fully complied with a 2005 WTO appeal verdict condemning several subsidy programmes for cotton farmers.
In response to that verdict, the US scrapped or amended programmes considered to be illegal export subsidies. However, Brazil says this left untouched some of the most trade-distorting subsidies, such as marketing loans and counter-cyclical payments that compensate farmers for low prices.
The US House of Representatives was set to vote late on Friday on a controversial $256bn, five-year farm bill that eliminates subsidies for farmers with more than $1m in adjusted gross income but continues to give generous subsidies in key areas including corn, cotton, soya beans and rice.
The bill was approved by the House agricultural committee on July 19.
The Bush administration has threatened to veto the legislation, saying it leaves the US vulnerable to WTO challenges similar to the case brought by Brazil over support for cotton farmers.
Pedro Camargo Neto, ex-secretary of production and trade at the Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture, dismissed the likelihood of Brazil bringing further cases, such as against soy, sugar and rice, where it would be more difficult to prove damages.
The Brazil ruling should embolden other countries, such as Mexico and Uruguay, to seek redress over rice subsidies.
A US trade official confirmed on Friday that the WTO panel had found that the changes made by the US “were insufficient to bring the challenged measures into conformity with US WTO obligations . . . we are very disappointed with these results”.
Brazil and its allies have pressed for big reductions in US and European Union farm support in the Doha global trade round.
The latest draft text by the chair of the Doha round’s agricultural negotiations calls specifically for deeper and faster-than-average cuts in cotton subsidies in developed countries.
Critics say such subsidies hurt not only Brazil but also millions of poor West African cotton farmers.
Still, with a successful conclusion to the round uncertain, the WTO’s dispute mechanism is increasingly seen as an alternative if ponderous route to the same end.
In 2005, Brazil, Thailand and Australia won another landmark case against EU sugar subsidies and this year Canada and Brazil have each filed new complaints alleging US overspending on trade-distorting farm aid.