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Four-step ag trade program touted

The Bush administration's top trade officials announced a new “four-step” program aimed at forcing open more foreign markets and increasing exports of U.S. farm products.

In keeping with the first of those steps, Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman and U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick also announced the release of $100 million in Market Access Program and Quality Samples Program funds to promote the sales of U.S. agriculture products overseas.

“Expanding opportunities for U.S. agricultural exports is one of the most important contributions this administration can make to sustained economic prosperity for America's farmers and ranchers,” said Veneman.

“One of the ways we do this is through public/private partnerships such as the Cooperator Program. We export more than $1 billion of food and agriculture products from this country every week, generating about one-quarter of farm income.”

Prior to speaking at a press briefing, Veneman and Zoellick met with agricultural groups to discuss a framework for boosting agricultural exports, which includes: 1) the use of trade promotion programs for agriculture products overseas; 2) aggressive plans for world trade negotiations and free trade agreements; 3) attacks on trade barriers and subsidies that hurt U.S. agriculture; and 4) efforts to increase world demand through economic growth and sustainable development.

“The ability of our farmers and ranchers to take full advantage of export markets also depends on passage of Trade Promotion Authority,” Veneman said. “In addition, the new trade talks launched in Doha last year offer tremendous potential to America's producers by expanding access to growing foreign markets.”

‘Need authority’

“We need Trade Promotion Authority to open markets for our farmers and ranchers. With TPA, the United States will be able to negotiate from a position of strength,” said Zoellick. “The United States is exerting vigorous leadership in the WTO and will push for liberalized trade in the Doha negotiations.”

Veneman announced that 67 U.S. trade organizations would receive $90 million in funding under the 2002 farm law's Market Access Program (MAP). MAP provides trade associations, state and regional trade groups and agricultural cooperatives a means to promote their products and build important markets overseas.

The new farm law also provides an additional $10 million for MAP for fiscal year 2002. Veneman noted that those funds would be allocated later this summer. The 2002 farm law provides for significant increases to MAP more than doubling funding to $200 million annually by 2006, the first increases to the program since 1996.

In addition, some 17 organizations would share $1.34 million in funds for the Quality Samples Program to help create export sales by promoting awareness of U.S. agricultural products among new foreign buyers. The program provides samples of agricultural commodities to foreign importers so that U.S. agribusinesses can develop new business partnerships overseas.

Defend new law

A second round of funding totaling $1.16 million is expected to be available for application in July.

Although the press briefing was billed as a discussion of U.S. trade policy, Veneman and Zoellick also defended the new farm law.

“We've heard a lot of arguments about how this farm bill is protectionist, but it doesn't raise one single tariff, it doesn't take one preferential program away,” said Veneman. “So many of these arguments that we've heard simply are not founded.”

“The Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris recently did an analysis of our farm bill, and one of the things that they've identified is that if you actually take the funds that were spent under Freedom To Farm, plus the annual supplementals, this farm bill's spending will be about the same as the 1996 farm bill,” Zoellick said.

“Secondly, in terms of market access, we didn't change a thing, and, indeed, since there's a lot of talk about the African market, 91 percent of the agricultural exports from Africa now come in tariff and duty-free, and, frankly, the subsidies only affect another 2 percent.”

Zoellick accused some foreign critics of the new farm law of trying to strengthen their negotiating position in the upcoming Doha round of the world trade talks.

“In some ways, it's amazing that people in the United States don't figure out what's going on,” he said. “This criticism helps the EU avoid their responsibility; it allows the Japanese to dodge their responsibility; allows somebody else to say to the United States you owe us something, those are just good negotiating techniques.”

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