So the world trade talks in Brussels were a bust, and the wicked protectionist European Community is widely portrayed as responsible.
Once again the Europeans lost the propaganda battle. The world is to be plunged into trade wars and recession because of a European addiction to subsidizing farmers.Here is one European's dissenting view. Two things went wrong. First, the timing turned sour. This was nobody's fault. The two previous General Agreements on Tariffs and Trade negotiations, the Kennedy round in the 1960s and the Tokyo round in the 1970s, were concluded when the economic outlook was bright.
This time the storm signals are out across the world. If a rising tide lifts all boats, a falling tide can deposit them on the mud at the bottom of the harbor.
Second, there was a tragedy of exaggerated expectations. The art of negotiation is first to work out what - after table-banging, shouting and breaking of furniture - can realistically be expected. Put it at 100. So you bid, and press your bid with fervor, for 160 or 170. Fixing it at 2,000 is not rewarding because the retreat at the end is so long it makes you look like a jackass. So, grossly exaggerated expectations lead you in the end to be their prisoner.
In the Tokyo round, Robert Strauss, one of the shrewdest and toughest negotiators ever, came to Brussels and said: "You've got sacred cows. We've got scared cows. I'm not in the business of slaughtering sacred cows." But he gave us a list of products for which he had to have increased market access. It was for us a painful list. But he got it.
This time the United States said in effect it wanted the common agricultural policy demolished and threatened without this to torpedo the negotiations. This the Europeans could not take.
Would a U.S. negotiator agree at gunpoint to repeal the Jones Act (restricting intra-U.S. shipping to U.S. ships) or to abolish federal subsidies to irrigation in the West with all the social and economic changes this would involve? The United States had a system of protecting its chemicals called the "American selling price" to which all its major trading partners objected. Its abolition took 30 years.
Getting agriculture straight internationally is not an overnight proposition. All the more so because fulfillment of the U.S. side of the bargain - whether Congress would agree to abolish or virtually abolish subsidies or import restrictions on dairy products, sugar and peanuts - is unlikely.
What we need is a long, patient multilateral effort in Geneva to reduce government support of agriculture. It will be a long haul - but better than no haul.