International action on agriculture is needed
THE resolutions recently adopted at the Venice economic summit and Organization for Economic Coordination and Development meeting in Paris demonstrate the importance and international scope of the current farm problem. All of the developed nations of the world agree that agricultural subsidies encourage surplus production. No agreement can be reached, however, on ways to end the vicious cycle of agricultural subsidies. Last year more than $100 billion was spent globally to subsidize the production of agricultural commodities. These subsidies have encouraged farmers to plow up millions of acres of highly erodible land. The breaking up of this land has created serious environmental problems. How can these global agricultural and environmental problems be effectively addressed? Negotiation of an international conservation reserve is the answer.
A worldwide production control program could be fashioned after the long-term conservation reserve program authorized in the 1985 US farm bill. This program would return highly erodible cropland to grass or trees for a period of 10 years.
All nations have land under cultivation which never should have been plowed. Erosion may be our most serious environmental problem. Soil erosion forces the abandonment of millions of acres of agricultural land every year. A program for a worldwide conservation reserve could return this vulnerable land to its normal state. This would not only reduce soil erosion but also reduce the threat to native plant and animal species in many parts of the world.
Farming of some of the areas also has potentially devastating effects on the world through changes in weather patterns. For example, the destruction of tropical rain forests may reduce the amount of oxygen produced and change the water cycle. An international conservation reserve would get at these serious problems.
Farmers would benefit. In the United States, the National Wheatgrowers Association and several other farm groups have endorsed the concept of an international conservation reserve. Currently, farmers in Japan receive more than half their income from government payments. Farmers worldwide receive their production signals from government programs rather than the market. A reduction in global production of agricultural commodities would bring supply in line with demand, thus increasing market prices. This would allow governments to phase out government subsidies without bankrupting the world's farmers.
Taxpayers would benefit. Higher market prices would reduce the cost of government farm programs. US taxpayers and other nations' taxpayers cannot afford to continue to subsidize agriculture at the current price.
Finally, consumers would benefit. Many nations tax food products to finance domestic farm programs. For example, Japan taxes food imports so they can subsidize farmers at a 60 percent rate. These ineffective government programs cost consumers more than a balanced supply-and-demand market would cost.
Recent international actions on agriculture have made an international conservation reserve a real possibility. Several European nations indicated support and interest in the concept. The administration will consider inclusion of a conservation reserve as part of the current negotiations under the auspices of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. An international conservation reserve is an idea whose time has come.
Sen. Larry Pressler (R) of South Dakota is a member of the European Affairs Subcommittee of the Foreign Relations Committee.