Published on 08/17/01

Veneman: Farmers Need Freer Foreign Trade

Photo: Brad Haire

Ann Veneman
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture

Athens, Ga. - U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman told farmers and farm policy makers here that the United States must embrace freer trade with foreign countries "or our farmers will be left behind."

Veneman gave the keynote address at the third annual Symposium on the Future of American Agriculture Southern Region Thursday. "We have to pursue trade agreements that allow U.S. agriculture to compete across the world," she said.

The United States has to start and take part in more trade negotiations with other countries and expand into markets outside its borders, she said. Because of efficient farming practices and technologies, U.S. farmers can produce far more than the domestic markets demand.

Because the United States dragged its feet during trade negotiations with Chile, she said, U.S. farmers are losing market shares to Canada, which has established trading ties with Chile.

Foreign Markets Expanding

Population growth in Russia and in African and Asian countries will surge, she said. More than 600 million middle-class people in these countries will be "eager to spend more on better foods."

U.S. farmers should be allowed to supply that food.

American agricultural exports have doubled over the past 15 years, she said, totaling about $1 billion every week. And domestic farm income has become more dependent on foreign trade in recent years. Agricultural exports account for 30 percent of U.S. farm receipts.

Ongoing efforts in research and technology can allow U.S. farmers to enhance yields and crop production, "feed an expanding world population and maintain a critical role in meeting domestic and world food needs," she said.

Veneman said the administration has not taken a position concerning the current state of quota-based programs, such as peanuts and tobacco, two major programs for Georgia agriculture. The quota peanut program could be phased out over the next 5 years.

Funds for Rural Georgia

She also announced that $3.65 million in loans and grants will be coming to meet business, housing, electric and wastewater infrastructure needs in rural Georgia.

The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed H.R. 2646, its proposed version of the 2002 Farm Bill. Experts compared the current farm bill to the House's proposed version.

Economists said without changes to the current bill, many U.S. farmers will continue to face serious cash flow problems.

Abner Womack, a Texas A&M economist, said the future farm bill will have to be flexible. "When things are bad, it puts money on the table," he said. "When times are good, it puts less."

House Version of Farm Bill

The House's proposed farm bill is not a complete remedy for the current farm crisis in the United States, said Ed Smith, also with Texas A&M University. But it does provide a chance for better farm cash flow in most cases.

U.S. Senator Zell Miller (D-Ga.) said the current farm bill has failed to deliver adequate safety measures for U.S. farmers. "We must drastically change our current program," he said.

The nation will have to answer one question relating to any future farm policy, he said: "Do we want our food supply produced domestically, or do we want to import it? We're at a crossroads in American farm policy."

The annual symposium is hosted by the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

Brad Haire is the former news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.