- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 1, 2002

This year, the Bush administration continues to advance an aggressive agenda aimed at improving our lives, from a strong farm economy and better schools, to a national energy strategy and higher-quality health care.

Yet there is another measure unknown to many and presently under debate in the United States Senate granting President Bush trade promotion authority. If approved, it would be a strong affirmation of an America ready to compete and win on the international arena.

Trade promotion authority (TPA) would put the U.S. in a much stronger position to lead the way in completing major new trade agreements that would advance the global interests of America's leading industries, including agriculture. At present, the U.S. is committed to but a handful of the more than 130 preferential trade agreements worldwide. That means the United States, the leader of the Free World, has been little more than a bystander in the game of free trade.

Mr. Bush wants to change that. Trade Promotion Authority would provide an important tool to press forward with new trade agreements to help tear down the barriers that hinder the competitiveness of America's farmers and ranchers.

The arguments for moving forward are very compelling. More than 20 million new jobs have been created in the United States since the early 1990s and the introduction of the North American Free Trade Agreement and the World Trade Organization. Meanwhile, America's goods and services exports have grown even faster than the U.S. economy, increasing more than 7 percent a year since 1992.

In fact, it is now estimated that some 12 million U.S. jobs are now supported by exports. That includes nearly 1 in 5 manufacturing jobs.

International trade has had a dramatic impact on the profitability of U.S. agriculture, with ag exports now accounting for nearly 25 percent of farmers' gross sales. However tariffs on U.S. agricultural goods currently average 60 percent which is hampering new export opportunities for our farmers, ranchers and food industry.

The market for America's good and services is changing. The U.S. now exports more corn than cosmetics, more wheat than coal, more bakery products than motorboats and more fruits and vegetables than household appliances. And it's time that Washington's trade policy be adapted to these changing times, by allowing the president to be, in effect, the nation's chief trade negotiator.

Expanding existing market access and opening new markets under future trade agreements will significantly boost U. S. agricultural export sales. After all, 96 percent of the world's consumers live outside the United States. And, many of them are in developing countries where almost all income growth is spent on food.

Passage of TPA would send the right signal at a time when the world is looking to America for principled leadership. Free and open trade is more than a matter of dollars and cents. It's the very foundation and a way of life for those who respect democracy, strive for freedom, and yearn for political stability and a higher quality of life. And it is best for America's farmers and ranchers, who seek free and open markets to sale their products.

It's time for the Senate to act now on trade promotion authority. It's a vote for American farmers and ranchers and an affirmation of American values, at home and abroad.

Anne M. Veneman is secretary of agriculture.

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