WASHINGTON, D.C. - Oregon Congressman Bob Smith, Chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture and formerly undecided on extending fast track trade negotiating authority, today announced his enthusiastic support for fast track and extolled free trade's benefits for agriculture.
Smith, who has made reducing international barriers to American farm products and increasing agriculture exports a top priority in the 105th Congress, joined Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman, Agriculture Committee members, and Agriculture commodity groups in an "Ag for Fast Track" rally and press conference on Capitol Hill this morning.
"I enthusiastically support fast track. American farmers and ranchers can prosper only where there is free and fair trade. Last year, U.S. agriculture exports totaled $60 billion and the agriculture trade surplus exceeded $26 billion. But there is still room for expanding our trade opportunities, and trade agreements are one way to do it. That's why, after very careful and deliberate consideration, I'm convinced that fast track authority must be extended," Smith said.
"The fast track bill drafted by the Ways and Means Committee incorporates several critical agriculture items in its principal negotiating objectives, including reducing or eliminating tariffs within definite time frames and eliminating subsidies that decrease market opportunities or distort markets. The bill also addresses rules that unfairly decrease market access, like state trading enterprises and restrictions on biotechnology, and takes the performance of past trade agreements into account. The bill goes a long way towards addressing the issues most often raised by America's farmers and ranchers," Smith said.
"Trade liberalization for agriculture is still far from complete. U.S. producers, processors, and exporters continue to face an array of tariff and non-tariff barriers, unfair trading practices, and preferential trading arrangements in key markets around the world," said Charlie Stenholm, the Committee's ranking Democrat.
"Fast track authority is critical to the Administration's ability to bring down trade barriers to expand trade in agriculture, and ensure that, as a strategic matter, the U.S. can position itself at the hub of a constellation of trade groups, particularly in Latin America and Asia," Stenholm said.
Smith represents Oregon's Second Congressional District, which includes most of eastern, southern, and central Oregon, in the U.S. House of Representatives. Stenholm represents Texas' Seventeenth Congressional District, a sprawling agricultural district in west central Texas.