MEDFORD, OREGON - Oregon Congressman Bob Smith, Chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture and a leading proponent of renewing fast track trade authority, today cautioned that adding provisions on labor and the enviornment to new fast track legislation to be considered next year would only weaken the bill, and could result in a complete collapse of support.
"Both the fast track bill introduced by the Administration and the one drafted by the Ways and Means Committee incorporated important agricultural priorities in their principal negotiating objectives and they ought to be commended for it. I was initially concerned that agriculture would be taken for granted, but with some effort, it was not. Agriculture was very much on the agenda, as it should have been. With $60 billion in agricultural exports annually and a $26 billion surplus in agricultural trade benefiting the United States, agriculture holds some cards," Smith said.
"But the danger here is to assume that in attempting to attract additional support, we have to add extraneous special interest provisions that would only weaken, not strengthen, any fast track bill. The purpose of fast track is to empower the President to negotiate beneficial trade agreements. To the extent we weigh down a new version with unnecessary and cumbersome labor and environmental provisions, we weaken the President's ability to negotiate those agreements. That only makes fast track less desirable. It's also more likely to drive away those who seek to pass fast track as a matter of trade policy based on what is in the United States' best interest, as opposed to viewing it as a short-term political poker chip," Smith said.
"Those of us who supported fast track as a matter of trade policy would be very hard-pressed to support it with those damaging and unnecessary provisions attached. Tinker with it too much and support could just collapse," Smith warned.
"The weakness in attempting to pass fast track was not in the bill, it was in the late and insufficient effort to convince both Congress and the American people that fast track, and trade agreements, are in the United States' best interest. I hope the American people eventually come to understand why, and that the battle next year is joined with a good deal more energy and conviction," Smith said.
Smith, who represents Oregon's Second Congressional District, which includes most of eastern, southern, and central Oregon, in the U.S. House of Representatives, has made reducing international barriers to American farm products and increasing agriculture exports the Agriculture Committee's top priority in the 105th Congress.