Order Code RS22724
September 18, 2007
Canada’s WTO Case Against
U.S. Agricultural Support:
A Brief Overview
Specialist in Agricultural Policy
Resources, Science, and Industry Division
On June 7, 2007, the Canadian government requested the establishment of a World
Trade Organization (WTO) dispute settlement panel to consider two charges against
U.S. farm programs — first, that the United States has exceeded its annual commitment
levels for total Aggregate Measurement of Support (AMS) in each of the years 1999,
2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, and 2005, and second, that the U.S. export credit guarantee
program operates as a WTO-illegal export subsidy. Both charges stem from a previous
negative ruling against U.S. farm programs in a case brought by Brazil against the U.S.
The United States blocked Canada’s request from proceeding at the June 21, 2007,
meeting of the WTO’s Dispute Settlement Body (DSB). According to WTO rules, a
panel can only be blocked once, implying that a second request by Canada would have
to be honored at a subsequent DSB meeting. However, Canada has since refrained from
pursuing its panel request at subsequent biweekly DSB meetings. Canadian officials
appear to be deliberating the merits of further action, particularly in light of a similar
case against U.S. AMS limits being pursued by Brazil. Should any eventual changes in
U.S. farm policy be needed to comply with a WTO ruling in Canada’s favor, it would
likely involve action by Congress to produce new legislation. For a detailed discussion
of the U.S.-Canada WTO dispute settlement AMS case, see CRS Report RL33853,
Canada’s WTO Case Against U.S. Agricultural Support, by Randy Schnepf. This report
will be updated as events warrant.
The United States and Canada conduct the world’s largest bilateral trade relationship,
with total merchandise trade (exports and imports) reaching $533.7 billion in 2006
(including $25.4 billion in agricultural trade).1 However, this economic trade success
story is not without its disagreements.2 In 2005, after several years of wrangling over
wheat trade issues, the two countries extended their agricultural disagreement to the corn
sector when Canadian corn producers sought legal action for alleged unfair subsidization
and dumping of U.S. corn in Canadian markets.3 Canada’s International Trade Tribunal
(CITT) ultimately ruled on the 2005 AD/CV duty case in favor of the United States.
However, Canadian corn producers continued to press their concerns upon the Canadian
government about perceived unfair subsidization of U.S. corn.
Canadian Request for WTO Consultations
On January 8, 2007, Canada requested WTO consultations with the United States
concerning three separate allegations involving U.S. commodity programs.4 This action
by Canada represented the first step in instituting a WTO dispute settlement case with the
United States — the assigning of an official dispute settlement case number (DS357) —
thus setting in motion the explicit rules and timetables of the WTO DSU process.5 In
making its charges, Canada clearly sought to build on Brazil’s successful WTO challenge
of the U.S. cotton program (WTO case DS267).6 Another potential motivating factor was
domestic political concerns emanating from a weak coalition government responding to
pressure from corn-producing interests following the unfavorable CITT AD/CV corn duty
ruling. In addition, Canada has a general interest in influencing the 2007 U.S. farm bill
debate in favor of lower amber-box-type support.7 A news report suggested that two
additional factors motivating Canada’s case included the suspension of Doha Round
negotiations (July 24, 2006), which indefinitely postponed the possibility of U.S. farm
program reforms under multilateral trade negotiations, and the settlement of a softwood
lumber dispute between Canada and the United States, which freed up Canadian
government trade attorneys to refocus on the WTO litigation against U.S. farm programs.8
For more information, see CRS Report RL33087, United States-Canada Trade and Economic
Relationship: Prospects and Challenges, by Ian F. Fergusson.
For a discussion of U.S.-Canada trade issues, see CRS Report 96-397, Canada-U.S. Relations,
Carl Ek, Coordinator.
The details of Canada’s charges against the U.S. corn sector are provided in CRS Report
RL33853, Canada’s WTO Case Against U.S. Agricultural Support.
Request for Consultations by Canada, United States — Subsidies and Other Domestic Support
for Corn and Other Agricultural Products, WT/DS357/1 (January 11, 2007).
For more information, see CRS Report RS20088, Dispute Settlement in the World Trade
Organization: An Overview, by Jeanne Grimmett.
For more information, see CRS Report RS22187, Brazil’s WTO Case Against the U.S. Cotton
Program: A Brief Overview, and CRS Report RL32571, Brazil’s WTO Case Against the U.S.
The amber box includes those policies that result in market-distorting support. For a discussion
of proposed reductions in WTO domestic support commitments, see CRS Report RL33144, WTO
Doha Round: The Agricultural Negotiations, by Charles Hanrahan and Randy Schnepf.
Inside U.S. Trade, “Johanns Says U.S. Will Defend Farm Programs from Canadian Challenge,”
January 12, 2007.
Following Canada’s request for consultations, several other WTO members —
Argentina, Australia, Brazil, the European Communities, Guatemala, Nicaragua,
Thailand, and Uruguay — officially requested to join the consultations as interested third
In its official request for consultations, Canada raised three explicit charges against
U.S. farm programs. Each of these is discussed below.
First Allegation: U.S. Corn Subsidies Cause Serious Prejudice. Canada
contended that the subsidies and domestic support provided to the U.S. corn sector have
caused adverse effects to Canadian corn producers in the form of serious prejudice and
the threat of serious prejudice to the interests of Canada during the 1996 to 2006 period
in violation of Articles 5(c) and 6.3(c) of the WTO’s Agreement on Subsidies and
Countervailing Measures (SCM Agreement).10
Second Allegation: U.S. Export Credit Guarantees Act as Illegal Export
Subsidies. Canada argued that the U.S. export credit guarantee program operates as a
WTO-illegal export subsidy. In the U.S.-Brazil cotton case (DS267), a WTO panel had
previously found that U.S. export credit guarantees effectively function as export
subsidies because the financial benefits returned by these programs failed to cover their
long-run operating costs.11 Furthermore, the panel found that this applies not just to
cotton, but to all commodities that benefit from U.S. commodity support programs and
receive export credit guarantees. As a result, export credit guarantees for any recipient
commodity are subject to previously scheduled WTO spending limits.
Third Allegation: U.S. Total Domestic Support Exceeds Its WTO Limit.
Canada contended that the United States has provided support to its agricultural sector in
excess of its scheduled WTO commitment levels. For the United States, its total spending
limit for “amber box” programs (i.e., programs that are trade- and market-distorting) was
$19.9 billion in 1999 and $19.1 billion in all subsequent years. According to U.S. farm
program spending notifications to the WTO, U.S. domestic support outlays have remained
well within U.S. WTO spending commitments. Canada’s claim that the United States has
exceeded its total spending limits hinges largely on a previous ruling from the U.S.-Brazil
cotton case where the panel found that U.S. payments made under the Production
Flexibility Contract (PFC) and Direct Payment (DP) programs do not qualify for the
WTO’s green box category of domestic spending, because of their prohibition on planting
Official WTO documents are Australia, WT/DS357/2 (Jan. 22, 2007); Guatemala, WT/DS357/3
(Jan. 23, 2007); and Brazil, WT/DS357/4 (Jan. 23, 2007); Argentina, WT/DS357/5 (Jan. 24,
2007); the EC, WT/DS357/6 (Jan. 24, 2007); Uruguay, WT/DS357/7 (Jan. 24, 2007); Nicaragua,
WT/DS357/8 (Jan. 24, 2007); and Thailand, WT/DS357/9 (Jan. 24, 2007).
For a description and interpretation of Articles 5(c) and 6.3(c) of the SCM Agreement, see CRS
Report RL33697, Potential Challenges to U.S. Farm Subsidies in the WTO, by Randy Schnepf
and Jasper Womach.
For more detail, see CRS Report RL32571, Background on the U.S.-Brazil WTO Cotton
Subsidy Dispute, by Randy Schnepf.
fruits, vegetables, and wild rice on covered program acreage.12 However, the panel did
not make the extension that PFC and DP payments should therefore be counted as amber
box programs, but instead was mute on this point. In its WTO notifications, the United
States has notified its PFC payments as fully decoupled and green box compliant.13 This
is an important distinction because the green box contains only non-distorting program
payments and is not subject to any limit.
However, Canada argues that, because of the previous ruling that PFC and DP
payments do not conform with WTO green-box rules, they should be included with U.S.
amber box payments. Furthermore, Canada argues that several other U.S. program
payments were incorrectly notified as either green box (e.g., several types of disaster
assistance payments) or as non-product-specific AMS (crop market loss assistance
payments), where they easily qualified for exclusion from amber box limits under the nonproduct-specific de minimis exemption. In addition, Canada argued that the as-yet-to-benotified CCP payments (made under the 2002 Farm Act) should similarly be counted
against the U.S. amber box spending limit of $19.1 billion. In contrast, the United States,
as part of its Doha policy reform proposal, recommends that CCP payments be eligible
for the blue box, where they would be subject to a different limit than the amber box.14
Since the United States has only notified its farm program spending through 2001,
no spending under the 2002 farm act — including both the DP and CCP programs — has
yet been notified. However, Canada charges that, when PFC, DP, and CCP payments for
all covered crops — wheat, corn, grain sorghum, barley, oats, upland cotton, rice,
soybeans, and other oilseeds — are included in the U.S.’s amber box, then the total
outlays would exceed the spending commitment in each of 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004,
and 2005. CRS calculations based on available USDA data suggest that inclusion of the
otherwise excluded direct payments in the U.S. AMS total exceeds the spending limit in
four of the years indicated (Figure 1). However, Canada did not provide the specific
details on its year-by-year determinations, so direct comparisons are not possible.
In response to Canada’s recent request for consultations on U.S. subsidies, U.S.
Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns declared that the United States would vigorously
defend U.S. farm programs against any possible WTO challenge by Canada.15 A
spokesman for the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) was critical of Canada’s action,
particularly in light of the significant increase in international corn prices since September
2006. The USTR spokesman said, “Given the dramatic improvement in the market over
For more information on these restrictions see USDA, Farm Service Agency, Fact Sheet, Direct
and Counter-Cyclical Payment Program Wild Rice, Fruit, and Vegetable Provisions, February
2003, at [http://www.fsa.usda.gov/pas/publications/facts/html/fav03.htm].
Decoupled means it has no influence on producer’s decision-making process; green box
compliant means it adheres to the terms and conditions of Annex 2 of the Agreement on
Blue box payments are defined as “production-limiting” types of payments. For more
information see CRS Report RL33144, WTO Doha Round: The Agricultural Negotiations, by
Charles Hanrahan and Randy Schnepf.
Inside U.S. Trade, “Johanns Says U.S. Will Defend Farm Programs from Canadian Challenge,”
January 12, 2007.
the past year, we’re surprised that Canada believes that our corn programs are now
causing harm in breach of WTO rules.”16 However, current market conditions are
unlikely to influence any WTO investigation (should the case reach that point) since
Canada is specifically challenging U.S. subsidies for the period 1996 through 2006, when
corn prices were substantially lower, and government outlays were significantly higher.
Figure 1. U.S. AMS Outlays — With and Without Direct Payments
A M S L im it
D ir e c t
P a y m e n ts
A M S w it h o u t
D ir e c t P a y m e n t s
S o u r c e : 1 9 9 5 -2 0 0 1 a r e U .S . W T O n o ti fi c a t i o n s ; 2 0 0 2 - 2 0 0 8 a r e C R S c a l c u l a t i o n s
b a s e d o n U S D A d a ta ; 2 0 0 9 - 2 0 1 2 a r e C R S c a lc u l a t i o n s b a s e d o n F A P R I b a s e li n e
p ro je c t io n s .
S o u r c e : U S D A , P S D o n li n e d a ta b a s e , A u g u s t 1 0 , 2 0 0 7 .
Canada Requests a WTO Panel to Review Case
On February 7, 2007, Canada and the United States held consultations concerning
the three charges raised by Canada. Under WTO rules, for subsidy complaints alleging
adverse effects, a minimum 60-day consultation period is required before a country can
ask the WTO to establish a dispute settlement panel.17 Although the consultations failed
to resolve the dispute, the Canadian International Trade Minister, David Emerson,
announced on May 2, 2007, that the Canadian government would temporarily hold off on
taking any further action in its WTO dispute settlement proceeding (DS357) against U.S.
corn subsidies until at least the end of the year, pending the outcome of current Doha
Round trade negotiations.18 However, on June 7, 2007, Canada requested the
establishment of a WTO dispute settlement panel to consider two of the three initial
International Herald Tribune, “Argentina, Brazil Join WTO Complaint Against U.S. Corn
Subsidies,” January 22, 2007.
Article 7.4, SCM Agreement.
“Holding Up on the US Corn WTO Case,” Washington Trade Daily, Vol. 16, No. 88, May 3,
charges against U.S. farm programs. The specific charge against U.S. corn subsidies was
dropped. The United States blocked Canada’s request at the June 21, 2007, meeting of
the WTO’s Dispute Settlement Body (DSB). According to WTO rules, a panel can be
blocked only once, implying that a second request by Canada, if made at one of the
subsequent biweekly DSB meetings, would have to be honored. However, to date Canada
has refrained from pursuing its panel request. Canadian officials appear to be deliberating
the merits of further action, particularly in light of a similar case against U.S. AMS limits
and the export credit program being pursued by Brazil.
Potential Implications and Role of Congress
Many market analysts and news media suggest that the U.S.-Canada AMS dispute
is a harbinger of future foreign challenges against U.S. commodity programs. If Canada
were ultimately to move forward with a WTO panel and were to successfully litigate its
case, it could affect most U.S. program commodities, since the charges against the U.S.
export credit guarantee program and AMS limit extend to all major program crops.
Should any eventual changes in U.S. farm policy be needed to comply with a WTO ruling
in Canada’s favor, it would likely involve action by Congress to produce new legislation
including adjustment, if not full removal, of the planting restriction on fruits, vegetables,
and wild rice on acres receiving direct payments.
Congress is presently revisiting omnibus farm legislation (which expires this year)
and could potentially address some of the issues raised by Canada’s WTO challenge. For
example, the House-passed version of new farm legislation (H.R. 2419) includes a
provision that would bring the export credit program into compliance with WTO rules,
but does not address the planting restriction on program base acres (as relates to the
charge of excessive U.S. AMS outlays). The Senate Agriculture Committee has yet to
mark up farm legislation, thus leaving open the possibility that some type of additional
reform may be included concerning the base-acre planting restrictions linked to direct
Given the importance of agricultural trade in the U.S. agricultural economy,
Congress will likely be monitoring developments in the WTO AMS dispute. The House
and Senate Agriculture Committees regularly hold hearings on agricultural trade
negotiations. If the ongoing Doha Round of WTO trade negotiations were to successfully
conclude with a text for further multilateral trade reform, there is the possibility that the
110th Congress would hold hearings and be in consultation with the Administration
concerning the possible renewal of fast-track, or Trade Promotion Authority (TPA),
legislation, which expired on July 1, 2007.19 Any such hearings and consultations could
be a major vehicle for Members to express their views on the U.S.-Canada AMS trade
dispute, on the negotiating issues that it raises, and on the potential implications for U.S.
For more information, see CRS Report RL33743, Trade Promotion Authority (TPA): Issues,
Options, and Prospects for Renewal, by J. F. Hornbeck and William H. Cooper.