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USDA's Rominger on Agricultural Globalization

(Tariffs world-wide have fallen 90 percent since 1960) (2470)

U.S. Deputy Agriculture Secretary Rich Rominger says U.S. agriculture would be crippled without access to world markets, and world markets would be hampered without access to U.S. consumers.

"Prior to the recent downturn for agriculture worldwide, U.S. exports reached $60 billion ($60,000 million) annually, though today they are around $50 billion ($50,000 million)," Rominger said February 22 to the American Farm Bureau Federation's World Congress of Young Farmers. At the same time, he said, agricultural imports totaled nearly $38,000 million in 1999.

Rominger said that since 1960 worldwide tariffs on all products have fallen 90 percent, while global trade has grown 1500 percent. Despite that, however, 800 million people worldwide are starving, hungry or are uncertain where their next meal is coming from, he said. Compounding that fact, he said, is that nearly 3,000 million people will be added to the world's population over the next 50 years.

"Only by embracing a truly free and fair world trading system will world agriculture be able to meet these challenges," Rominger said.

Rominger also said that the recent U.S.-China trade agreement and China's efforts to join the World Trade Organization (WTO) are examples of the value of globalization that is changing the nature of agriculture.

Following is a text of Rominger's remarks:

(Note: In the text, "billion" equals 1,000 million.)

(begin text)

[U.S. Department of Agriculture

Washington, D.C.

February 22, 2000]

Remarks by

Deputy Secretary Rich Rominger

AFBF World Congress of Young Farmers

Orlando, FL

February 22, 2000

Thank you Steve (Nunley, Oklahoma farmer).

I want to congratulate Bob Stallman on becoming President of the American Farm Bureau Federation. Helping farmers adapt to the challenges of the new century will be no easy task ... for any of us. I wish you well in your new capacity Bob.

I want to thank the American Farm Bureau Federation for having me here today. Secretary Glickman places tremendous importance on a new generation of farmers. They will be the key to this nation's ability to meet the challenge of helping to feed a world population that will top 9 billion by the middle of the century.

(Agriculture) Secretary (Dan) Glickman likes to tell a story about a boy -- a very curious and inquisitive young boy -- who had the opportunity to visit a nuclear submarine and was fascinated at its ability to stay underwater for such a long period of time.

So he asked the captain: "What happens when submarines run out of fuel?" And the captain explained that they run on nuclear energy and can remain underwater for a decade or so.

"Well," the boy asked, "what happens when they run out of drinking water?" And the captain explained all the different distillation methods for making sea water potable.

The boy persisted: "Well, what happens when they run out of air?" And the captain told him about their oxygen producing systems and so forth.

Finally, the boy asked: "So when do submarines come up?" "That's easy," the captain said, "when we run out of food."

We can live without our phones and televisions, without cars and planes. Believe it or not, as difficult as it would be, we can live without electricity or even oil. But we can't live without food. And there is only one way to get food and that's to grow it. Civilization, all civilization, from 5000 years ago to today's space age society, begins on the farm. Agriculture is the soul of every society.

The production of food remains the most important work of humankind. And though at times it is some of the riskiest, most unpredictable, backbreaking work there is, farming is also the most rewarding and fulfilling.

In the United States and around the world, we're seeing a lot of young people choose professions off the farm, or even out of agriculture. I guess the general feeling is agriculture isn't what it used to be. I believe that to be true, it isn't what it used to be. Agriculture is being transformed becoming more diverse, more technologically driven and more global. And to me these changes spell opportunity.

So where are the opportunities in agriculture? Well of course, the first place is right on the farm, but your farm has to adapt to the modern world -- in productivity, diversity, pest management, risk management, conservation and more. And, even though I'm a farmer, I would also remind you that there are many off-farm opportunities in agriculture that are needed to support our farmers.

What I mean by that is there are a lot of support functions that today's farms and farmers need to rely on. From computers to transportation, from scientists to irrigation engineers, from farmers market organizers to co-op managers, from pest management specialists to aquaculture consultants.

The point is agriculture is changing and expanding and growing in ways we never dreamed of, and the next generation needs to cultivate that growth. To do that you need to recognize the forces that are shaping agriculture and find ways to utilize them. Today, I will talk about 3 major areas that are changing agriculture as we know it -- globalization, science and technology and sustainable agriculture -- and providing a new range of opportunities for young people around the world.


During my 7 years as Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, I've seen the extraordinary impact increased trade has had on the bottom lines of all participating nations. Consider this fact: Since 1960 tariffs worldwide on all products have fallen by 90 percent while global trade has grown 1500 percent. Personal income, living standards and quality of life have all benefitted accordingly.

The story is no different for agriculture. Today the production from 1 out of every 3 acres planted in the United States is exported. Prior to the recent downturn for agriculture worldwide, U.S. exports reached $60 billion annually, though today they are around $50 billion. Clearly, American agriculture would be crippled without access to world markets. And world markets would be severely hampered if they did not have access to U.S. consumers. Agricultural imports from around the world totaled nearly $38 billion last year.

Yet we live in a world where 800 million people are starving, hungry or don't know where their next meal is coming from. And we're going to add nearly 3 billion people in the next 50 years. Only by embracing a truly free and fair world trading system will world agriculture be able to meet these challenges.

That's why, for example, you'll be hearing a lot about China in the coming months as the Clinton Administration works hard to gain Permanent Normal Trade Relations status for China. That, coupled with other bilateral agreements China is negotiating around the world, would clear the way for China to join the WTO.

When that happens, agriculture around the world stands to benefit greatly. China is home to 1 out of every 5 human beings on this planet. As China opens her borders to become part of the global economy its markets offer tremendous potential for growth. And that means opportunity for the people in this room.

Our markets are already open to China. We already import $70 billion worth of goods from China while U.S. exports to China are merely $14 billion. That's over 5 times more that comes in than goes out. The new agreement opens up China to American agricultural producers and other industries.

For agriculture, China agreeing to join the WTO means China will lower tariffs, which for the U.S. will mean increased exports of bulk commodities like wheat, corn, cotton and vegetable oils; eliminate false trade barriers like those not based on proven scientific evidence; and, remove all agricultural export subsidies. Once this agreement is fully implemented, USDA estimates that U.S. agricultural exports may increase by up to $2 billion annually by 2005, and that's a conservative number.

The point is China is but one example of the globalization taking place that is changing agriculture as we know it and providing opportunities to a new generation of farmers and other men and women of agriculture.

Science and Technology

The ability of the world to grow closer is due to advancements in science and technology in everything from transportation, to communications, to mechanization on the farm.

Recently, Secretary Glickman announced the naming of a new building complex at USDA's giant research facility in Maryland after one of the great agriculture scientists of all time -- George Washington Carver. Dr. Carver was one of those visionaries who changed agriculture as it was commonly known. For example, he invented what today has become one of the cardinal rules of farming crop rotation. Eli Whitney brought mechanization to agriculture with the cotton gin. And John Deere invented the steel plow allowing farmers to increase their productivity almost exponentially.

Today, with the same fervor that drove those American inventors, researchers across the globe continue to transform agriculture as we know it. Satellites help in planting decisions, combines are computer aided and scientists continue to find environmentally friendly ways to produce food.

The newest science that is just beginning to show promise, but is also stirring quite a bit of controversy is biotechnology.

Agricultural biotechnology has enormous potential. It can be an indispensable tool in meeting growing global agricultural demand while lessening the strain on our precious natural resources. It can also help farmers produce a new generation of specialty products, to meet future consumer demand. It is already revolutionizing the pharmaceutical industry.

But regardless of its potential, agricultural biotechnology has its skeptics and detractors. With any new science we should not be afraid to ask the difficult questions. All of us have to understand ethical, safety and environmental implications of biotechnology. The science behind the technology has to be strong. Our testing has to be rigorous. We have to be as vigilant as ever. And we have to make sure that those involved in determining the safety of genetically-engineered products are independent from the people who stand to profit from them.

The regulatory procedures we have in place are not only meeting the challenges of biotechnology, but we are adapting them to grow and develop with this new technology because we want to ensure that the processes we rely on to protect public health and the environment are state-of-the-art.

And, as a safe and reliable path for the introduction and maintenance of biotechnology develops around the world, with its progress comes a wave of opportunities for a new generation of farmers -- in specialty crops, in new avenues of marketing, in productivity, in reducing their input costs, in agricultural sciences and more.

Sustainable Agriculture

But despite the continuing transformation of agriculture, the fact of the matter is the real basics behind food production remain constant. You need good soil, sun and water. You need dedicated farmers and ranchers. You need the support and sustenance of surrounding rural communities.

So the challenge before us is not only to feed the world today, but to ensure that we can feed the world tomorrow. We call that sustainability -- where we get more productivity using land, water and other inputs more efficiently -- where we preserve the earth's resources for future generations -- where farmers earn a decent living feeding America and the world -- where farmers can keep alive a cherished way of life while farming communities thrive -- and where we proudly pass on farming's skills and traditions to future generations. That is the promise of sustainable agriculture.

One of the most important principles in sustainable agriculture is conservation. How we treat our natural resources will determine our ability to maintain a strong agricultural foundation for future generations.

In the past, if we needed to grow more food, we just planted on more land. People believed that the economy would grow, and the environment would take care of itself. But, as time passed, it became apparent that mankind's actions did affect the environment.

Under President Clinton and Vice President Gore we have learned that the choice between prosperity and the environment is a false choice. Today, this Administration unites this country behind the belief that we can take care of the planet that takes care of us, and still prosper.

We've come upon a threshold -- realizing that if we are going to live up to the promise that each generation leaves behind a world that is better than when they inherited it, we must be better managers. Today, agriculture is a very important part of this effort. Because their living is dependent on the land, farmers and ranchers are in the forefront of caring for the planet. They understand the importance of clean water, protecting the soil, and preserving mother nature's delicate balance.

With the conservation provisions we fought so hard for in the 1996 Farm Bill, this administration recast the relationship of government and farmers as one of working together toward common goals. Now, with the new conservation provisions this Administration proposed in next year's budget, we're taking on-farm conservation philosophy to an even higher level, recognizing that the land itself is a valuable commodity.

The bottom line is a healthy environment and prosperity can coexist -- that you can do what's best for the land and still earn a respectable profit. I'm a farmer, I know.

A farmer, now with an office in Washington -- but my family is deeply immersed in farming. My brother, sons and nephews grow alfalfa, beans, corn, cotton, rice, safflower, sunflowers, tomatoes and wheat in Yolo County, California. They know first hand about the stake that farmers and ranchers have in a clean environment and the conservation of natural resources. It's about their livelihood.

When I can get home to the farm, I like to stand in my yard and look across the fields at the line of lower foothills where my son Charlie built ponds and established vegetation for wildlife habitat and storm water retention.

My family knows that profitability is directly linked to our ability to stay ahead of the game. By applying the latest technologies that pass the sustainability test, they are able to stay competitive in what is always a tough marketplace.

My family of farmers understand that agriculture is constantly changing that there are powerful influences way beyond the farm gate that can have a positive or negative effect on their ability to prosper. Some people see major trends like globalization, advancing technology and sustainable agriculture as obstacles, others see them as opportunities. The question I would like to leave you with today is, where do you fit in?

Thank you.

(end text)

(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Website:



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