Today, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Larry Combest (R-Texas) and Ranking Minority Member Charlie Stenholm (D-Texas) departed with the agriculture delegation to the World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations held this week in Seattle, Washington. Combest and Stenholm are leading a delegation of more than 20 members of the House Agriculture Committee as one of many steps to ensure that American farmers and ranchers are fully represented at the onset of the negotiations.
"The future prosperity of American farmers and ranchers depends on opening the global market to their goods," said Combest. "The Seattle round of WTO talks will have a profound impact on United States agriculture. Throughout this process, it is essential that these trade negotiations proceed under the close scrutiny of the farm sector."
As Chairman of the Committee and a member of the Speaker's WTO Ministerial Congressional Advisory group, Combest has pledged close consultation between the Committee delegation and the U.S. Trade Representative and the Department of Agriculture during the course of negotiations. Combest's goals for the WTO negotiations include a decrease in agriculture tariffs, reduction of export subsidies, discipline of state trade enterprises, and certainty that science, not protectionism, is the basis for worldwide trade rules.
"Farmers and ranchers receive nearly thirty percent of their cash receipts from foreign trade," Combest said. "America produces the safest, most abundant food supply in the world, and the global market can provide even greater opportunities if unfair practices are abandoned and barriers to U.S. exports are removed."
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. In order to continue this positive balance, and to improve upon it, markets around the world must be open to U.S. agricultural exports.