WASHINGTON, D.C. — As world agriculture trade talks approach in 1999 and with agriculture constituting the largest positive item in the United States' Balance of Trade, the House Committee on Agriculture, led by Chairman Bob Smith (R-OR), pressed for reductions of tariff and non-tariff trade barriers while securing additional purchases of U.S. wheat in talks with officials in Egypt and laying the foundation for additional sales of U.S. corn in Spain.
Smith, who represents Oregon's Second Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives, has made opening markets for American agricultural exports one of the Agriculture Committee's highest priorities in the 105th Congress, leading congressional trade missions to Chile, Argentina, Canada, Mexico, Thailand, the Philippines, New Zealand, Australia, and the European Union (EU), and generating tens of millions of dollars in benefits to American agriculture. From August 21 to August 26, the agriculture delegation, consisting of 6 Members of Congress, visited Egypt, traveling to Spain from August 26 to August 31.
"I'm very pleased with the outcome of our discussions. We all agree that the global economy benefits from active and vibrant trade and securing these benefits requires the constant work and dedication of the U.S. government. I believe we've succeeded in our goals and we've effectively laid the groundwork for future talks which will lead to further reductions in trade barriers," Smith said. "On top of all that, we have helped U.S. farmers sell their products around the world."
In Egypt, the congressional delegation met with President Hosni Mubarak and Ministers of Agriculture, Supply and Trade, and Health stressing the need to reduce import restrictions on beef, poultry, and dairy products, while conveying appreciation and hopes for continued U.S. wheat sales which could amount to 66% of Egypt's market this year. Immediately prior to the departure of the congressional delegation, Egypt purchased 250,000 tons of United States wheat. Additionally, Egypt purchased 200,000 tons of U.S. wheat during the delegation's trip. These two purchases, as a direct result of the Committee's visit to Egypt, represent a total of 450,000 tons of U.S. wheat valued at almost $50 million. Additional purchases of U.S. wheat are expected later this year.
In Spain, the delegation met with the Minister of Agriculture, various government officials, including representatives of the Ministry of the Environment, agricultural groups and grain importers stressing the need for Spain's support for opening another corn tender this year so that U.S. growers can take advantage of remaining quotas of almost one million tons. The delegation was successful in urging the Association of Spanish Cereal Traders to write to Spain's Ministry of Agriculture and request that they be provided an opportunity to purchase U.S. corn at the earliest time possible.
"Spain needs U.S. corn," Smith said, "and our farmers are ready to sell, with more than sufficient supplies available right now. Selling U.S. corn is in the best interest of Spanish grain traders and U.S. corn growers and I am appreciative of the action of the Association of Spanish Cereal Traders."
"Action is now needed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative to pressure the European Union to allow an early tender for corn. We have a willing buyer and a willing seller, only governments are keeping them apart," Smith said.
The delegation discussed the lengthy process used by the EU to review biotechnology products and its effect on sales of U.S. corn and other products. In addition, the delegation strongly urged wider-reaching Common Agriculture Policy reforms to end market distorting export subsidies.
"The 1999 World Trade Organization agriculture talks will be our next significant opportunity to secure concrete and lasting reductions in trade barriers. The negotiations should not only lead to removal of tariffs, which are far too high, but they should also prevent countries from circumventing their trade commitments through disguised subsidies, non-tariff measures, or technical measures, such as overly rigid labeling requirements," Smith said.
Smith was joined on the trade mission by Representatives Tom Ewing (R-IL), Bill Barrett (R-NE), Gary Condit (D-CA), Collin Peterson (D-MN), and Michael Bilirakis (R-FL).