Fairer Trade Stays on Course
By Stewart Truelsen
"The world is moving toward more open trade, that was evident in Singapore," said American Farm Bureau Federation President Dean Kleckner. "There are going to be bumps and stumbles, but fairer trade is happening and freer trade is going to evolve out of this process."
The process referred to is the World Trade Organization, the successor to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). The 128 nation member body just completed its first ministerial level meeting in Singapore.
Kleckner, a member of President Clinton's Advisory Committee for Trade Policy and Negotiations, termed the meeting a success. He saw no evidence of retreating from trade liberalization, which is good news for American farmers.
"Obviously the United States wants to open world markets more in agriculture than they are today because we are mostly an open market in the U.S.," Kleckner said. "We take products in here without a lot of exceptions. The rest of the world doesn't."
Kleckner sees objections to freer trade from Japan and Korea. The European Community would also like to hold back, but Kleckner believes there are cracks in that philosophy now in Europe.
U.S. farm exports are a healthy $60 billion this year because of higher prices and good sales. Better market access will ensure a growth market for what farmers produce, and the WTO can play an important part in it.
Kleckner believes the WTO will speed up the long delays in settling trade disputes, like the European Union's eight year ban on hormone-treated meat and dairy products. A resolution of that dispute is expected by next summer.
This doesn't mean the U.S. will like everything coming out of the WTO. Canada was able to maintain high tariffs on U.S. dairy, poultry and egg products because it was in compliance with the WTO, although not in accord with the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The first big opportunity for the WTO to deal with trade in agriculture comes in 1999. That's when agricultural negotiations are scheduled to begin under the auspices of the WTO. Trade reforms initiated during the Uruguay Round of the GATT had a six-year period in which to be phased in, and then a reassessment was called for.
Does the world go forward in opening up agricultural markets? That decision needs to be made in the next round of negotiations. Reassured by the positive nature of this WTO meeting in Singapore, Kleckner believes the answer will be yes. If that's the case, U.S. agriculture will be able to build on its unmatched success in the world marketplace.
Stewart Truelsen is director of broadcast services for the American Farm Bureau Federation.