US agriculture strength tied to open trade

US agriculture strength tied to open trade

The strength of the U.S. agricultural economy is directly connected to an open system of international trade, free from unwarranted and unjustified barriers.

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) released three reports to Congress detailing the Obama Administration’s work to reduce or remove key foreign government barriers to American exports. The reports describe how the Administration has fought for American jobs over the last year by working to reduce or eliminate unwarranted sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) and technical barriers to trade (TBT) as well as other significant barriers to American exports.

Just a few weeks removed from the historic implementation of the U.S.-Korea trade agreement, and as our officials wrap up USDA’s largest-ever agricultural trade mission to China, we are reminded that the strength of the U.S. agricultural economy is directly connected to an open system of international trade, free from unwarranted and unjustified barriers.

Under Agriculture Secretary Vilsack’s leadership, USDA has aggressively worked to expand these export opportunities and reduce barriers to trade, helping to push agricultural exports to record levels. As a result, net farm income today is at near record levels while debt has been cut in half since the 1980s. Farm exports in fiscal year 2011 reached a record high of $137.4 billion—exceeding past highs by $22.5 billion—and supported 1.15 million jobs here at home. The agricultural trade surplus stands at a record $42.7 billion. And, overall, American agriculture supports 1 in 12 jobs in the United States and provides American consumers with 83 percent of the food we consume, while maintaining affordability and choice.

None of this would be possible without the good work of USDA staff around the world.

There are approximately 170 Foreign Service Officers in USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), staffing 102 offices in 82 countries around the world, as well as monitoring and reporting on the agricultural trade matters of an additional 82 countries. U.S. farmers, ranchers, trade associations and private companies depend on FAS officers to guide them through export of their products. FAS officers provide reports on hot market prospects and work with other USDA agencies, such as the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and other federal partners such as USTR and the Commerce Department, to offer expertise when trade barriers arise.

Over the past three years, for instance, FAS has commented on nearly 900 measures proposed by foreign governments that, if implemented, would have significantly affected U.S. exports, and/or violated a major WTO commitment. Through the comment process, USDA not only alerts exporters to expected changes in foreign regulations, but also influences their development to minimize the impact on U.S. exports.

In the past year alone, USDA resolved numerous sanitary, phytosanitary and technical barriers to trade, including gaining Indonesia’s approval of new varieties of biotech corn and soy, achieving less restrictive beef agreements with Chile and Egypt, reopening the Algerian market to U.S. dairy products, maintaining U.S. eligibility to ship plant products to Vietnam, persuading Saudi Arabia to remove a ban on food coloring, and opening the Western Australian market to U.S. cherries.

The work of USTR, USDA and our federal partners ensures that foreign governments play by international trade rules. We cooperate to prevent and remove unwarranted barriers to trade, saving and securing American jobs and businesses, and supporting President Obama’s goal of doubling American exports by the end of 2014 through the National Export Initiative (NEI). And this work is having a dramatic impact. Since the President committed to doubling U.S. exports, we are on pace to meet that goal. Recent figures show the number of jobs supported by American exports have grown 1.2 million since 2009, while total U.S. exports hit a record $2.1 trillion last year, up 34 percent from 2009.

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