Seattle, Washington - Today, the House Committee on Agriculture delegation led by Chairman Larry Combest (R-TX) and Ranking Member Charlie Stenholm (D-TX) closed out a productive week at the World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial in Seattle. They had led a group of more than twenty members of the Agriculture Committee in ensuring that the concerns of American farmers and ranchers were fully represented in the negotiations.
"This Ministerial is laying out the framework for the negotiations that will follow," Combest said. "If these meetings are any indication, there will be some tough negotiations ahead. We came to Seattle to help our trade negotiators push for the flexibility and freedom to negotiate the best possible deal for America's farming and ranching families. Because Congress will have to vote on any final outcome, our Committee will continue to closely monitor the progress of the negotiations."
Throughout the ministerial, Combest and Members of the delegation consulted closely with key negotiators including U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky and Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman. In addition, the delegation regularly met with agricultural producer groups to ensure that their concerns and goals were represented to the fullest extent.
"It is important for us, who will eventually have the responsibility for approving or disapproving this agreement to closely monitor and provide input to our negotiators," Ranking Member Charlie Stenholm (D-TX) said. "Our farmers and ranchers must maintain a high profile in order to obtain the level playing fields and open markets they need to survive."
"We need to be fully committed to opening up the global marketplace for American farmers and ranchers," Combest said. "They are the most efficient on Earth and our negotiators need to tear down unfair trade barriers so producers can market their goods throughout the world. It is up to us to guarantee that their voices are heard throughout this round of WTO talks."
U.S. farmers and ranchers must compete against highly subsidized foreign producers, and they face agricultural tariffs of over 50% across foreign markets. This year USDA estimates that agricultural exports will be $49 billion-more than $10 billion lower than the value of U.S. agricultural exports in 1996. Moreover, the agriculture trade surplus for 1999 is estimated to be $11.5 billion, the lowest since 1987. For years, agriculture has provided one of the few positive returns to the U.S. balance of trade, and it relies on open and fair trade. In order to continue this positive balance, and to improve upon it, markets around the world must be open to U.S. agricultural exports.