U.S. membership in the World Trade Organization is vital to the economic development of agriculture, and successful WTO Doha Round agricultural negotiations are the best way to expand foreign marketing of U.S. agricultural products, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation.

In testimony to the trade subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee, Minnesota Farm Bureau President Al Christopherson said U.S. agriculture's best opportunity to address critical trade issues is through the multilateral process. Christopherson is an AFBF board and executive committee member and presented AFBF’s perspective to the subcommittee.

“U.S. membership in the WTO provides a trading system based on rules that helps maintain stable markets for our exports,” he said. “With the production of one-third of U.S. cropland destined for foreign markets, U.S. agriculture is strongly export-dependent. The 148-member World Trade Organization operates to provide a stable environment for continued growth in markets for America’s farmers and ranchers” Christopherson said.

AFBF’s highest trade priority is a successful conclusion to the multilateral Doha Round of the WTO negotiations. The WTO functions to provide a stable and predictable trading environment for U.S. agriculture through trade negotiation, standard setting and dispute settlement, Christopherson noted.

The world average tariff on agricultural products is 62 percent while the U.S. average agricultural tariff is 12 percent. He said a final agreement on tariffs must result in a significant percentage reduction of higher-level tariffs.

AFBF believes that any reductions in domestic supports must be balanced against improvements in the area of market access in order to advance export prospects for farmers and ranchers.

AFBF cites export subsidies as the most distorting measure in trade. Farm Bureau supports the complete elimination of export subsidies as contained in the most recent Framework Agreement of WTO agricultural trade negotiation, Christopherson said.

The opportunities for disputes increase as trade barriers are reduced and the volume of trade increases. “One of the major accomplishments of the Uruguay Round was the strengthening of the dispute settlement system. A rules-based trading regime requires an enforcement mechanism so that nations can be assured that following the rules will not place them at a competitive disadvantage,” he said.

“We believe agriculture’s future continues to lie in expanding foreign markets and eliminating barriers to our exports,” Christopherson said. “Continued membership will help assure that the World Trade Organization has an important and effective future for the United States and the other member nations. As long as exports are important to U.S. agriculture, WTO membership will be important as well.”