Washington Insider --Wednesday

Lake Erie Likely to Get Another Blast of Algae this Summer

Here's a quick monitor of Washington farm and trade policy issues from DTN's well-placed observer.

WTO's Doha Round Talks Remain Stalled

In spite of public expressions of optimism from a number of World Trade Organization members regarding the ongoing Doha Round talks, little real progress has been achieved in recent weeks, according to an internal document leaked to the Bloomberg BNA news service.

Negotiators are scheduled to meet later this month in Geneva, and had hoped to agree on a way forward on some of the details of the Doha talks that have been conducted spasmodically since November 2001. The so-called stocktaking document that was leaked to Bloomberg was intended to help members understand where the negotiations now stand and prompt a conversation as to what must be accomplished in the fall. However, the document instead reveals in detail the persistent disagreements among members, including those involving trade in agricultural products. (Also see item below.)

The WTO will hold a trade ministerial meeting in mid-December, a forum at which it was hoped members could complete work on Doha. The recent revelation that virtually no progress has been made in recent months throws cold water on those hopes. And with the upcoming election year in the United States, it is unlikely that the talks will be any more successful in 2016.


OECD Study Finds China's Farm Subsidies Double Over Past 20 Years

China increased support for the its farm sector over the past 20 years to a reach a rate that now eclipses that of the European Union, the United States and Japan, according to a new report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The report, which analyzes farm data from 49 of the world's top agricultural nations, adds fuel to the debate among World Trade Organization members about the need for caps on China's farm subsidies. Earlier this year, U.S. trade officials pointed to China's massive growth in domestic farm subsidies as evidence for new limits as part of a Doha deal.

Attempts to convince China to rein in supports for its domestic agricultural sector have been rejected repeatedly by China, and failure to resolve the issue is one of the main reasons that the Doha Round remains stuck in place. (Also see item above.)

Washington Insider: Lake Erie Likely to Get Another Blast of Algae this Summer

Producers are well used to keep at least one eye on the weather during the growing season and beyond, especially as everybody has become more sophisticated in terms of watching for El Niño, as well as the Western drought. Now, in a longer-term sense, it is a good idea to keep an eye on Northern Ohio, and the news there is not good. Western Lake Erie is likely to be covered by a severe algae bloom this summer, perhaps one almost as large as the record-setting bloom seen in 2011, researchers said recently.

The details of the evolving threat include a rainy June that resulted in record discharges and nutrient loadings from the Maumee River, which runs through Toledo, Ohio, and northeastern Indiana, according to the June forecast from the University of Michigan and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The researchers say they see this year's Lake Erie algae bloom reaching 8.7 on a severity index ranging from zero to 10.0. Last year's bloom measured 6.5, and the 2011 bloom, the worst ever observed, was a 10.0. A severity reading above 5.0 indicates "blooms of particular concern," the university said.

A year ago, cyanobacteria produced by algae in western Lake Erie caused Toledo officials to shut down the city's drinking water system. The researchers backed and filled a little noting the obvious: that their prediction doesn't necessarily mean the same thing will happen this year, as local weather conditions also affect algae.

Still, they are urging early action. "We cannot cross our fingers and hope that seasonal fluctuations in weather will keep us safe," Don Scavia, director of the university's Graham Sustainability Institute, said last month in a statement accompanying the forecast. "Phosphorus from farms in the Maumee River watershed needs to be reduced in order to eliminate threats to the region," he said.

Researchers are continuing to monitor the size and movement of the bloom through field observations and satellite tracking. NOAA says it will issue twice-weekly bulletins on the observations. In addition, NOAA says it is working with the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Geological Survey on a satellite-based early warning system for freshwater nuisance and toxic algal blooms.

The key issue for producers is the new phosphorus reduction targets for the lake and the political mechanisms that likely will be expanded to implement them. These come from farm fields, lawns, and overflowing sewage systems. As it is now, most of these pollutants in the Maumee River basin and end up in western Lake Erie, where they combine with the warm, shallow water to feed spectacular blooms of toxin-producing cyanobacteria, also called blue-green algae. The blooms are poisonous to humans and animals if ingested, and can cause rashes and other skin irritations if touched.

Thus, the worsening prospect for this year suggests consideration of a broad range of constraints on agricultural practices that producers across the regions should watch carefully, in terms of how and when the controls will be implemented and what they may mean for their operations, Washington insider believes.

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