Monday, October 10, 2005

Coyote Ugly

ZURICH (Reuters) - The United States proposed on Monday deep cuts in farm subsidies and the future elimination of agricultural tariffs in a bid to unblock world trade talks and meet an end-year deadline for a deal.

When I was a bachelor hanging out in lockerrooms after playing football or basketball or hockey or baseball or darts, we had a saying where, if we woke up next to someone we met in a bar the night before that we had to do a double take on, we wouldn't say she was a fox, but a coyote.

Meaning she was so repulsive (could be physically, but usually it was personality-wise), we'd chew our arm off rather than wake her up and so have to talk to her.

I'm beginning to get the impression that the Bush administration is undergoing precisely the same "chew my foot off rather than stay shackled to these guys" feeling with the red state voters who they counted on to elect them twice.

First came the Roberts nomination. Next, Harriett Miers.

In both of those cases, Bush had yeoman work to soothe and assuage the red-meat conservatives who backed him. With Roberts, he could dangle the O'Connor seat. He does not have that option with Miers.

He's overspent his political capital, and now he intends to screw farmers, particularly larger corporate farmers, by taking away their pricing floor. Farmers in red states, mostly.

Writing in the Financial Times on Monday, (US Trade Representative Rob) Portman said the United States wanted steep tariff cuts during the next five years, starting from 55 percent up to 90 percent in the highest tariffs in rich countries.

In a second stage, tariffs should be reduced to zero, he said in an article.

Canada's international trade minister, Jim Peterson, welcomed the U.S. move as a potential way to break the WTO deadlock.

"The initiative by Mr. Portman is just what we needed," he told reporters in Zurich. We are encouraged by what we see, but we will wait to see the details," he said.

And for what?

Apparently, for the *promise* that other tariffs would come under negotiation.

Now, what industries is the US so lagging behind the rest of the world in terms of trade that it needs help getting its goods to market?

Although China is a WTO member, it already enjoys Most Favored Nation status, which means its markets are about as open as they're going to get. India, while not MFN, has been a WTO member since 1995. (Yea. World trade is even more mind-numbing than understanding the tax code.)

Look, I'm all for more trade with more countries, but something smells really fishy here when the Bushies are willing to dismantle farm subsidies, one of the few consistent pork barrell items that Senators and Congressmen can reliably bring home in small agricultural states.