WASHINGTON, D.C. - With agriculture trade constituting the largest positive item in the U.S. trade balance, the House Agriculture Committee, led by Chairman Bob Smith (R-OR), continued it's work toward reducing trade barriers and encouraging trade talks with officials representing the European Union.
Smith, who represents Oregon's Second Congressional District, has made opening markets for American agricultural exports the Committee's highest priority in the 105th Congress. He has led trade delegations to Chile, Argentina, Canada, Mexico, Thailand, the Philippines, Australia, and New Zealand, while generating tens of millions of dollars in benefits to American agriculture. From April 2 to April 15, the agriculture delegation visited Germany, Belgium, and France, meeting with various European Union (EU), German, and French officials to discuss the upcoming WTO negotiations and the EU Agenda 2000 CAP reform.
"For American farmers and ranchers, trade is an essential part of their livelihoods and currently accounts for 30 percent of U.S. farm cash receipts. The future of American farmers and ranchers will depend, in great part, on the rules of worldwide trade. The 1999 WTO negotiations will be the battleground for writing these rules for the 21st Century, and it is vital that we use this opportunity to further reduce tariffs, open new markets, and address unfair trade practices around the world," Smith said.
The 1999 WTO negotiating agenda will likely include several issues that were not adequately addressed during the Uruguay Round, including reduction of export subsidies and domestic support programs, improved market access, trade in biotechnology products, the administration of tariff rate quotas (TRQs), and the use of safeguards for specific commodities.
"Agenda 2000's focus on economic efficiency and global competitiveness is encouraging, but the EU reforms are too conservative. True market orientation requires movement toward the elimination of agricultural price supports, production and export subsidies, and all farm income supports linked to production. Furthermore, future EU enlargement should require additional reforms for the countries seeking membership," Smith said.
Referring to the March 18 vote by a Member State committee to approve the import of one rapeseed and three biotech corn varieties, Smith said, "The current EU approval process for biotechnology products is non-transparent and overly political. While this vote is a giant step toward avoiding a potential confrontation over U.S. corn and corn product exports, in the future it will be far easier to get bio-engineered crops approved if we develop a workable and timely process."
In addition, members of the delegation advised European representatives of the damaging effect of the reported sale of 30,000 tons of subsidized barley in California, and recommended that the EU immediately cease such sales. Members also stressed the importance of recent WTO decisions regarding non-tariff trade barriers. The WTO ruled against the preference the EU accords certain Caribbean nations for banana imports and called into question the EU's administration of TRQs, marking an important precedent for how the WTO will look at TRQs in the future. Members further underscored the substantive nature of the WTO Appellate Body's decision that the EU hormone ban is inconsistent with WTO Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Agreement and reiterated their expectation that the EU would comply by lifting its ban.
Smith was joined on the trade mission by Rep. Tom Ewing (R-IL) and Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN). Among various agricultural groups and EU Parliament Members, the trade delegation met with EU Commissioner for Agriculture, Franz Fischler, EU Commission Vice-President, Sir Leon Brittan, German Minister of Agriculture, Jochen Borchert, and the French Farm Bureau.