At a hearing today to review the agenda for upcoming World Trade Organization (WTO) talks, Committee members criticized U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman for categorizing supplemental Agricultural Marketing Transition (AMTA) Payments as "trade distorting payments", as Chairman Larry Combest (R-TX) immediately sent a formal request to the Secretary urging him to change the classification for the purpose of WTO negotiations.
"The payments were made after the production year and could have no effect on producers' planting decisions," Combest wrote. "How in the world is Congress to help farmers deal with lost markets if even the most non-trade distorting assistance is to be limited by the actions of USDA?"
"I am pleased that you indicated that you would review this decision, since it is one that can have a profound impact on U.S. farmers," Combest wrote. "Just as the determination was made that AMTA payments are not trade distorting, the supplemental AMTA payments should not be considered trade distorting."
A new round of multilateral trade negotiations will begin at the World Trade Organization ministerial meeting in Seattle beginning in November 1999. These negotiations will provide a unique opportunity for United States agriculture to further reduce tariffs, open new markets, and address unfair trade practices around the world.
"Those of us interested in promoting U.S. agriculture around the world believe our farmers and ranchers can do better in world markets," Combest said. "But unless we break down barriers, expansion of United States agriculture trade will be slowed down even more than it has over the past three years."
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 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 our agricultural exports.
"Once the Seattle Round has begun, we need to work until agreement can be reached on all sectors of the agenda, rather than carving out agreements on less controversial sectors, and leaving agriculture behind," said Ranking Member Charlie Stenholm (D-TX). "Since the end of World War II, eight rounds of negotiations have reduced the average bound tariff on industrial goods from 40% to 4%. Meanwhile, bound agricultural tariffs remain at an average of over 40%."
At today's hearing, U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky testified that 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.