Is the 2013 US Farm Bill "WTO Legal"? Nope

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 7/11/2013 09:52:00 AM
Ho hum--another US Farm Bill, another round of fat agricultural subsidies for American producers that hurt farmers in the developing world. Just as Brazil successfully sued the US for its cotton subsidies a couple of years back [DS 267], the 2013 Farm Bill under consideration does not do away with actionable subsidies in the form of price supports if crop prices drop significantly. Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) recognizes this, although it should be pointed out that his state is not a major producer of the most-contested crops--rice and peanuts:
I also have longstanding WTO concerns. The United States lost the cotton WTO case to Brazil in part because of the decoupled target price program. It simply isn’t right to force that same risk onto other commodities when we already know the potential pitfalls. The WTO stove is hot. We should not reach out to touch it again.
The domestic debate over the inclusion of food stamps aside that is still holding up the Farm Bill, the bone of contention with America's international critics remains. Sure they may have renamed the price supports, but in this case it truly is a case of old wine in new bottles:
Both bills retain a counter-cyclical price program that makes a farm payment when prices for covered crops decline below certain levels.It is renamed Adverse Market Payments or AMP in S. 954 and Price Loss Coverage or PLC in H.R. 1947. To better protect producers in a market downturn, the price guarantees (called “reference prices” in both bills) that determine payment levels are set in statute and increased relative to current parameters (called “target prices”). 
To be fair, there was some effort made last year in the Senate to remove such subsidies on all but the most sensitive agricultural products, but it all came to naught and either Senate of House versions will now retain them:
The [stillborn] 2012 Senate-passed farm bill (S. 3240) did not provide for a counter-cyclical price program, and an amendment to eliminate AMP for crops other than rice and peanuts failed during committee mark-up of S. 954. S. 954 continues current policy by making payments on 85% of historical plantings (or “base acres”), a provision designed to minimize the program’s effect on planting decisions. In contrast, the House bill pays on 85% of planted acreage to better align payments with producer risk.
All in all, the US is still living dangerously with regard to WTO-actionable subsidies. It remains a case of putting a large "KICK ME IN THE WTO" sign on yourself and hoping you avoid a swift one in the hiney.

Given how the US further disadvantages already disadvantaged farmers in the developing world while claiming it's "free trade," somebody should really make a WTO case against it soon.