About the best the peanut industry can hope for out of trade agreements currently either in the works or on the drawing board is that they do no harm.

“We expect little positive (results) for peanuts out of any trade agreements under consideration,” said Evans Plowden, general counsel to the American Peanut Shellers Association, during the general session of the 6th annual Southern Peanut Growers' Association Conference recently in Panama City, Florida.

Agreements under consideration — SACU, South African Custom Union; FTAA, Free Trade Association of the Americas; CAFTA, The Central American Free Trade Agreement; WTO, World Trade Organization; and possible agreements with Australia, Panama, an association of Andean nations, Morocco, Bahrain and Thailand — would include relatively long periods (up to 12 years) before the United States receives full market access.

Plowden said FTAA could become a, “mini-WTO that involves a lot of countries. Currently, it appears (negotiators) are having difficulty getting an agreement,” he said.

Plowden said reopening the Doha Round of WTO negotiations faces, “several issues, but a little progress has been made. We've seen more movement than we did at the Cancun meeting.

“With all these agreements, we see little advantage for peanuts. Perhaps we could get some agreements on phyto-sanitary regulations,” he said.

Plowden acknowledged that peanut farmers do not rely solely on one crop for income and suggested that those who grow cotton, corn and other grain crops may benefit from less restrictive trade barriers.

“But the peanut industry is playing defense in these trade talks,” he said. “And our greatest defense is our competitiveness. Brazil, for instance, has a hard time competing in the peanut industry now.”

Keith Gray, Alabama Farmers Federation, said WTO decisions, particularly the Brazil claims against the U.S. cotton program, could affect the 2007 farm bill deliberations. “The contention that counter-cyclical payments are trade distorting could affect peanuts,” he said, “and all other farm programs.”

He said the WTO's final decision also could affect the European Union, which could become an unlikely ally for the U.S. position.

Gray said suggestions of legislative changes prompted by WTO action are premature. “It's too early for law changes, but the peanut industry needs to monitor the situation.”

e-mail: rsmith@primediabusiness.com