fb - voice of agriculture
March 2000

Increased Ag Exports to China Depend on Us

Bob Stallman
American Farm Bureau
By Bob Stallman
President, American Farm Bureau

China is ready to play by the same world trade rules as 136 other nations. Welcoming Earth's most populous nation into the World Trade Organization should not be a big deal. But it is, because of issues that have little or nothing to do with trade. The crazy thing is that China could very well become a member in good standing of the WTO and our government could still prevent us from reaping the benefits of lower tariffs. That's because Congress must grant China permanent normal trade relations status. Once that happens, goods and services can flow.

In order to get into the WTO, as well as attain normal trade relations status, China entered into a bilateral agreement that would literally open their door to U.S. farm products. China already is a sizeable customer of ours, buying about $2 billion worth of our farm goods last year. Once China attains normal trade relations with the U.S., our farm exports there would quickly grow by at least $1 billion. We would also regain some of the market share we lost in Asia to China's subsidized exports, a practice they have agreed to curtail.

China Promises Immediate Benefits for U.S. Farmers and Ranchers

In late 1999, China agreed to cut their tariffs on U.S. commodities by more than 50 percent and promised not to raise any new technical barriers to unfairly keep our products out. They will phase out state trading of soyoil. They also will purchase more of our bulk grains. In addition, China will recognize U.S. export certification standards and systems for meats and citrus. In fact, just last month a Chinese delegation visited citrus groves and packing plants in Florida, Texas, Arizona and California to review pest control measures and were generally satisfied with what they saw. The citrus reforms are ready to go now. The rest will occur as soon as Congress and the President grant normal trade relation status.

With U.S. farmers and ranchers facing some of the toughest times in decades, it is unconscionable for our own government to deny us access to 1.3 billion consumers. It is also unfair to deny the Chinese people the opportunity to obtain U.S. products. Our country's goal should be to promote rather than retard the growth of world trade. Farm Bureau has championed open, mutually beneficial trade for decades. Why not? Jobs are created. Incomes improve. Living standards advance. Citizens of both trading nations end up better off. Remember, we are talking about improving relations between two of the most powerful nations around. Building understanding and reducing friction are big benefits to the world.

Farm Bureau Members Play a Pivotal Role

Rather than dwell on what was, or stew over what is, let's encourage our elected leaders to consider what could be. Normal trading practices, following the system agreed to by the vast majority of nations, will stabilize peace and promote prosperity. Advances in other social areas will surely follow. We certainly cannot forcibly impose our nation's standards on others. But we can share our ideals. As China becomes more market-oriented, consumers there will play a more influential role. There is little doubt that political and economic freedoms will evolve as the Chinese come to better know foreign ideas and values.

Our role now is to get Congress to grant permanent normal trade relations status to China. This is one of Farm Bureau's top priorities. Delegations of Farm Bureau leaders from numerous states are visiting Washington to meet with members of their congressional delegation. Each should carry this message with them. For most farmers, there are other ways to get our message across. Farm Bureau members have a history of successfully influencing their members of Congress with letters, phone calls, district office visits, etc. Let's keep it going. China is cutting deals with other nations as you read this. U.S. trade with China depends on us getting Congress to act.