"Our priority is to encourage the Doha Development Agenda now being pursued by the World Trade Organization," he said. "This new framework is the largest negotiation of its kind in history, and it would reduce unfair agricultural subsidies and open the global market in services."
The United States ingredients sector has been lobbying the US government hard in order to gain greater market access in developing countries that have high tariffs. The United States was running an agriculture trade deficit for much of last year having imported more agricultural products than were exported last year.
This reversed the United States' long time agricultural trade surplus, which had helped offset the large merchandise trade deficit. Latest USDA figures for agricultural trade show a slight improvement with exports at $5,504,016,049.00 and imports at $5,305,523,383.00 for March 2005.
However, the emergence of a negative agriculture trade balance last year makes the reduction of barriers, particularly developing country tariffs, a highly attractive goal.
The US administration has clearly been listening, and trade representative Robert Portman promised in his inauguration on Tuesday to pursue WTO negotiations fully in order to achieve reduced tariffs for US food exports. The November 2001 declaration of the Fourth Ministerial Conference in Doha, Qatar, provides the mandate for negotiations on a range of trade issues.
"By reducing barriers to trade across the board, Doha has the potential to substantially expand US exports," said Portman.
"Over 12 million American jobs now are supported by exports, and those jobs pay about 15 percent higher than the average wage. One in every three acres of American farmland is planted for export, and one in every five manufacturing jobs in this country is dependent on the export of our products."
The American Farm Bureau Federation has been a key lobbyist in this matter. In testimony to the trade subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee this week, Minnesota Farm Bureau President Al Christopherson said US agriculture's best opportunity to address critical trade issues was through the multilateral process of the WTO.
"US membership in the WTO provides a trading system based on rules that helps maintain stable markets for our exports," he said. "With the production of one-third of US cropland destined for foreign markets, US agriculture is strongly export-dependent."
The Farm Bureau supports the complete elimination of export subsidies as contained in the most recent Framework Agreement of WTO agricultural trade negotiation. World average tariff on agricultural products is 62 percent while the US average agricultural tariff is 12 percent.
It seems that the Bush administration has accepted the necessity of multilateral trade talks through the arrangement set up in Doha. "We cannot retreat to economic isolationism," said Portman.
"The evidence is overwhelming that free and fair trade is in the best interest of our economy and makes Americans better off. I believe the right way forward is smart economic engagement, opening markets, tough enforcement, and using trade as a powerful weapon to spread freedom."
Added Christopherson: "Continued membership will help assure that the World Trade Organization has an important and effective future for the United States and the other member nations. As long as exports are important to US agriculture, WTO membership will be important as well."