AGRICULTURE IS FOCUS OF 2 SETS OF NEGOTIATIONS

AGRICULTURE IS FOCUS OF 2 SETS OF NEGOTIATIONS

An increasingly controversial agriculture sector will be in the trade spotlight next year as negotiations on liberalizing agriculture trade begin in earnest on both the hemispheric and global stage.

Trade ministers from 34 countries last week in Costa Rica agreed on a negotiating structure for the Free Trade Area of the Americas. Agriculture will be a separate negotiating committee in the talks that will lead to a Canada to Chile free-trade zone by 2005.Hemispheric talks will be launched in April. But serious discussions will not likely begin until late this year or early next year. However, next year the World Trade Organization begins discussions on liberalizing the agricultural trade worldwide.

Discussions on agriculture under two politically charged trade negotiations is likely to keep lobbyists and trade negotiators working overtime over the next few years. The parallel talks could mean one negotiation bogging down the other.

TWO TALKS AT ONCE

''I think all of these talks can go on in parallel, they have their own dynamic. They each tend to cover slightly different things,'' said U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky. ''Usually it can go a little further regionally with the smaller group of countries than you can multilaterally. But I don't see one set of talks impinging on the other. I think, in fact, each can ratchet the other.''

That view was shared by Michael Stuart, president of the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association in Orlando, a group that has actively fought liberalization on a sectoral level in favor of a broader global negotiation.

Having negotiated agriculture on the global level while a participant in the North American Free Trade Agreement talks in the 1992 and 1993, Mr. Stuart said talks do become more complicated.

''It just wouldn't be the same without two simultaneous negotiations going on in agriculture,'' he said. ''It does make things more complex and the thing you have to make sure of is that you have consistency between the two.''

U.S. agriculture frequently charges that it must compete against products from developing nations that do not face the same enforcement of phytosanitary, environmental or labor standards. In the hemispheric talks being launched next month, agriculture issues will play out under the standards negotiating committee - which touches on phytosanitary standards - and even the intellectual property negotiating committee.

''All of it takes place across the entire spectrum of negotiations over a seven-year period. We're looking at an entire negotiation, not just part of one group,'' said Mr. Stuart.

COME TO MIAMI

Florida Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles was in Costa Rica last week to press for Miami as a negotiations site. He called the creation of a special negotiating committee on agriculture a victory. He said it will be subjected to a narrow negotiation instead of being included in the broader market access negotiating committee.

The United States initially opposed paring agriculture out of market access, since it reduces the trade-offs during the final stages of market-access talks. A U.S. trade official said opposition was removed quickly because of a need to pursue issues in the Costa Rica talks to create a negotiating structure for the hemispheric effort.

Congress has still not given the Clinton administration the authority to negotiate a FTAA. Rather than battle over keeping agriculture within market access, U.S. trade officials sought mechanisms to increase non-governmental participation in the process - mechanisms needed to build congressional support.

Brazil pushed hardest for an agriculture committee because of its complaint about U.S. restrictions on its citrus and other agriculture industries.

BRAZIL INSISTS ON GROUP

''We have insisted, as the large producers that we are and exporters of agricultural products, there be a group where we could focus specifically on our particular interests so there is not a mixture between industrial and agricultural products, and that we could examine with much emphasis and interest agriculture products,'' said Brazilian Foreign Minister Luiz Felipe Lampreia, his country's top trade official.

According to data provider Global Trade Information, Brazil last year exported in containers some $161.6 million in juices and preserved vegetables and $134.6 million in edible fruits and nuts - figures Brazil believes are low in part because of what it calls U.S. non-tariff barriers on agricultural products.