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Agriculture Committee Reviews Free Trade Area of the Americas

Top USDA, Commerce, Trade officials detail impacts on America's producers

(May 23, 2001)

Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman, Secretary of Commerce Don Evans and the United States Trade Representative Robert Zoellick testified Wednesday before the U.S. House Committee on Agriculture regarding Bush Administration proposals for a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) and the impact of those proposals on United States agriculture. The Committee also heard the views of beef, fruit and vegetable, wheat, soybean, sugar and grocery industry representatives on strengthening the U.S. negotiating position, as well as resolving issues with current trading partners before expanding regional free trade beyond Mexico and Canada.

President Bush sent his 2001 International Trade Agenda to Congress on May 10. The agenda includes trade promotion authority, which is important to U.S. producers' access to agricultural markets around the world. U.S. tariffs against other nations' imports are low – at 12 percent – while worldwide tariffs average about 62 percent against U.S. goods. Chairman Combest observed that it is to the advantage of U.S. agriculture to continue to open markets and remove barriers to America's agriculture exports through negotiations.

"Agricultural trade negotiations are important and offer a great opportunity to level the agricultural playing field, including the elimination of foreign subsidies that put U.S. farmers and ranchers at a significant disadvantage," said Chairman Larry Combest (R-Texas).

Continuing to represent the interests of farmers and ranchers at discussions of international trade and new trade negotiations, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Larry Combest (R-TX), with Committee Reps. Eva Clayton (D-NC), Tim Holden (D-PA) and Adam Putnam (R-FL) traveled to the Summit of the America's in Quebec April 20 – 22, meeting with Columbia's President, Argentina's Agriculture Minister and Canada's Director General for Foreign Affairs and International Trade. Secretaries Veneman and Evans and Ambassador Zoellick, who had briefed the Ag Committee delegation at the Summit, broadened those discussions in today's hearing.

"President Bush has said that enactment of trade promotion authority is at the top of his trade legislative agenda and that he is committed to working with Congress on a bipartisan basis so that America can reassert its leadership in the trade arena," said Combest. "Agriculture is an important part of that agenda and this Committee will ensure that agriculture's voice is heard. Remember, those are the voices of farmers and ranchers across the United States."

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