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Canada Wheat Board Seeks Monopoly Allies at WTO
The Canadian Wheat Board is courting support for its monopoly powers from potential allies in trade talks that threaten to limit how it sells wheat and barley on world markets, a board director said on Thursday.

Wheat board officials met with negotiators from Australia, New Zealand, China and India in Geneva this week to try to build resistance against a push by the United States to force changes to the monopoly, said Larry Hill, a farmer from Swift Current, Saskatchewan.

"If the U.S. finds out that it's four or five interested countries ... and they're the only one that's really pushing hard against it, then it will be hard for them to maintain that position," Hill told reporters on a conference call from Brussels.

The wheat board, which has a monopoly on sales of wheat and barley from the Canadian Prairies to millers, maltsters and export markets, sold a total of 18.4 million tonnes of grain worth more than C$4 billion ($3.3 billion) in the 2003-04 marketing year, which ended in July.

The farmer-controlled marketing agency was the world's third largest wheat seller last year.

In August, Canada signed a WTO framework agreement that said the future use of monopoly powers for agencies like the wheat board would be subject to more negotiation.

At the time, Trade Minister Jim Peterson had said Canada could find no allies on the wheat board issue.

But wheat board officials said they found strong support from Australia and New Zealand, which each have single-desk selling agencies.

China and India, which run state-owned buying agencies, were also interested in the issue, Hill said.

"We don't see us being alone on this issue at this time," Hill said.

The wheat board wants to make sure the new WTO agreement doesn't place restrictions on its commercial operations, he said.

The officials also pleaded their case with European farm groups, EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson and Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel.

The EU has demanded changes to the wheat board because its farmers face the loss of export subsidies in the WTO talks.

"They want to make sure that Canada feels the pain, as they put it," Hill said.

He argued Canadian farmers will be hurt enough by a WTO agreement that will force the Canadian government to stop guaranteeing the wheat board's payments and borrowings.

The wheat board had close to C$5.5 billion in borrowings in 2003-04.

"If you lose a guarantee that gives you a gold-plated credit rating, you're obviously going to have to pay more interest," Hill said, although he said the wheat board has not determined what the loss will cost farmers.

The wheat board has said it would ask Ottawa to establish a fund to compensate for the loss, so that it could continue to get attractive interest rates.
MGR Archive 20.3.2005
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