When I became Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee in January of this year, I had one primary goal: to ensure that America’s farmers and ranchers have the policies in place that they need to feed, fuel, and clothe the nation while ensuring stability and consistency for farmers, ranchers, consumers, markets, and rural communities. After all, agriculture is the foundation of our livelihood and the lifeblood of rural America. And, while our work will never be done, we are off to a great start.
Smith Continues Push for Fast Track
WASHINGTON, D.C. — With economic growth and trade liberalization dramatically increasing opportunities for American farmers and ranchers, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Bob Smith (R-OR), at a hearing today, stressed the importance of building on past successes while continuing to remove barriers to U.S. trade.
Today's hearing regarding trade in the Western Hemisphere was the final in a series of four hearings that Chairman Smith and Ranking Member Charlie Stenholm have held in preparation for the 1999 WTO negotiations. Previous hearings focused on trade with Europe, Asia and the Pacific, and Africa and the Middle East.
Fast Track was a recurring theme throughout this series. To date, over eighty agriculture groups have actively voiced support for granting the President this negotiating authority, citing it as their number one priority. Because American farmers and ranchers can only prosper under free and fair trade, Chairman Smith has proposed an amendment to secure enough votes for passage of Fast Track legislation. His proposal states that the U.S. Trade Representative, with regard to any negotiations/agreement on agricultural trade, must consult closely with Members of the House and Senate Committees on Agriculture, before signing any agreement.
"U.S. farmers and ranchers, since the passage of the Freedom to Farm Act, look to the marketplace to sell their products. It is our responsibility, as part of the government, to make sure that there are no artificial impediments in the way of agriculture sales. This means that our government must work to open markets around the world and keep them open," Smith said.
"Countries in the Western Hemisphere accounted for 30% of U.S. agricultural exports in 1997. Over the past ten years, U.S. exports to this part of the world more than tripled. The reasons for this growth in U.S. exports can be attributed to economic and population growth in the region and trade liberalization," Smith said.
"The 1999 WTO negotiations offer a platform for further reduction in barriers to trade and further expansion of agricultural trade opportunities. There is no question that countries in this region present unique opportunities and challenges to the upcoming WTO negotiations. These include issues relating to state trading enterprises, access for U.S. dairy, poultry, and eggs, high duties on U.S. exports, and sanitary and phytosanitary disputes," Smith said.
In June, Smith and a bipartisan group of farm state legislators outlined his "square deal" for farmers and ranchers, a four-point plan providing a future for American Agriculture. Smith's square deal includes implementation of Fast Track negotiating authority, lifting of agricultural sanctions against Pakistan and India, funding for the International Monetary Fund, and approval of normal trade status for China. On Tuesday, July 14th the agricultural embargo against Pakistan and India was lifted allowing for the sale of 300,000 tons of U.S. wheat to Pakistan.
"As we build the 'square deal' for farmers and ranchers, we should keep in mind the ultimate goal----a level playing field for our farmers," said Ranking Committee Member Charlie Stenholm. "With this in mind, we in Agriculture should speak with one voice, remembering the lessons of the past and avoiding unilateral disarmament, such as yesterday's unfortunate decision in the Senate Finance Committee to unilaterally reduce the tariff on wool fabric."
Smith represents Oregon's Second Congressional District — which includes most of eastern, central, and southern Oregon — in the U.S. House of Representatives. Stenholm represents Texas' Seventeenth Congressional District, a sprawling agricultural district in west central Texas.