Johanns Reconfirms Position on Free Trade

Top ag officials meet with the countries of the Cairns Group. Jacqui Fatka

Published on: Apr 1, 2005

While in Colombia for the Cairns Group meeting, top U.S. agriculture officials took the opportunity to progress on bilateral meetings and trade agreements in addition to an ongoing commitment to World Trade Organization (WTO) talks.

Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns reported that the countries represented are "very, very committed to the Doha Development Round process. They are anxious to negotiate an agreement, and everybody has recommitted themselves, if you will, to bringing about reform in agriculture."

The reform has focused on three pillars--trying to eliminate export subsidies, reduce and harmonize trade-distorting domestic support, and reduce tariffs and tariff disparities to open up market access for our products. Johanns explains reducing tariffs is the most prudent for U.S. farmers because the average U.S. tariff is 12% while the average tariff for all world trade in food and agricultural products is 62%.

Additionally, Johanns took the opportunity to further discuss the Andean Free Trade Agreement with the Columbia hosts. Two-way agricultural trade between the three Andean countries and the United States currently tops $3 billion a year. "Our Andean friends rightly view a cutting edge FTA with the United States as a key component in their economic growth and reform plans," he says. "We see the FTA as a great way to open markets and opportunities in support of our broader goals in our hemisphere."

During a media call broadcast from the event, Johanns was questioned what the reaction was to WTO's latest cotton ruling and his strategy for meeting the July 1st deadline. Johanns answered that there was definitely discussion about the cotton case from other nations and his response to them was similar to what he's said back in the United States. "We are serious about our participation in WTO and we are absolutely serious about playing by the rules," he says.

He's told the countries that the United States is taking a serious look at what the case says, and what the next steps have to be. "And as I have talked to the member countries here, that response has I think been reassuring to them in terms of our commitment to the WTO process," Johanns adds.