Transcript by Secretary of Agriculture Ann M. Veneman at the 66th Annual Oxford Farming Conference Oxford, England - January 3, 2002 | USDA Newsroom
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Release No. 0003.02
Printable VersionPrintable Version
USDA Office of Communication (202) 720-4623

January 3, 2002


SECRETARY VENEMAN: "Well, thank you all very much, and thank you for that kind introduction. It's a very distinct pleasure to be here with you all to join in your conference.

"If I seem somewhat incoherent at times it's because my watch says it's 4:00 a.m., and as was indicated, I did just fly in last night. But it is especially good to be here during this time of uncertainty in our world, and I'm certainly proud to represent the Bush Administration here in the U.K. today, recognizing the strong relationship that our two countries have, particularly since the events of September 11th.

"I am also pleased to be at this beautiful place and to see some good friends like Henry Plumb. What a delight to see you here today. We have been in the International Policy Council together, and it's really a great pleasure to see him again.

"This is a critical time for global agriculture. So much of what is going on in the world today involves agriculture: threats of bioterrorism, disease outbreaks, the launch of the new global trade negotiations, domestic policy debates, a wave of new the technologies, acute hunger in parts of the world, and the challenge of assuring that developing countries become full participants and beneficiaries of the world economy and global trade.

"We all face pivotal decisions for industries and for global agriculture in the near future, and that's why it's so important to share information and to share perspectives at forums like we have here today.

"I want to focus my remarks today on emerging trends in agriculture, and suggest some implications as we see them for both domestic and international policy. Agriculture long has been a dynamic sector, evolving throughout the 20th century, but today it's being even more rapidly transformed. Historically, agriculture has faced only one market, the food market, which is governed by a particular set of supply and demand fundamentals. Agriculture produced food and fiber, period. Product demand growth was determined by population and income growth, supply as a function of arable area and technology advances.

"New production and processing technologies are beginning to open up now entirely new markets from pharmacological, energy, industrial and environmental products and services, giving farmers all around the world brand new opportunities.

"I want to discuss a few of those opportunities. One of the promising new markets involves the emerging role of agriculture in pharmacological or functional foods as we often refer to them. This may include vaccines and dietary staples or provide protein or nutrients deficient in diets of some groups. Most of us here heard about "golden rice", which combats vitamin A and iron deficiencies. In poorer countries an estimated half million children go blind each year because of the vitamin A deficiency. Just imagine the possibility of treating widespread debilitating diseases through the provision of medicines in widely consumed staple food products. Scientists are just beginning to explore the potential for pharmacological food products.

"Agriculture is already, to some extent, a source of renewable energy: clean burning fuel, industrial ethanol, soybeans, diesel. As research continues in the use of proper forest products and products from animal operations the potential is staggering in renewable energy resource from agriculture in so many different potential arenas.

"Industrial uses for farm products continue to multiply, especially chemicals from plants: soy-based inks, industrial adhesives, and bio- polymers. For example, scientists recently noted that soybean oil can replace many petroleum-based resins used to make auto parts. Perhaps most intriguing is the opportunity to provide environmental services, such as carbon sequestration, using agriculture to sequester or remove carbon from the atmosphere to reduce greenhouse gases.

"The possibilities go beyond current incentives to encourage conservation practices and put acreage into conservation areas. To reduce carbon emissions into the atmosphere, governments or industries can pay farmers to engage in specific farming practices to embed carbon in the soil, which is a new conservation role for agriculture.

"New uses offer farmers new possibilities for producing differentiated products and services to meet the specific needs of markets and consumers, rather than producing only generic commodities. The emergence of those new markets and possibilities holds significant implication for farm size and type, location, income, and the future viability for all communities. For example, many small farms today are successful because they're targeting niche markets, such as organic markets, urban farmers markets, very specialized products.

"Availability of information combined with identifying specific consumer customer wants and needs are creating a new paradigm in agriculture. No longer do farmers have such a limited set of options. While the demand for quality commodities will always be a mainstay for global agricultural markets, value-added products and services are transforming our way of farming.

"The emergence of new markets is only one of the important new trends we are seeing today. Agricultural biotechnology is a major force, shifting agriculture from traditional commodity-based systems to characteristic-specific value-enhanced product systems. Likewise, new packaging and processing technologies are also revolutionizing ways in which food can be produced and marketed. Today the business environment in developed countries particularly is very clear. Producers are operating in a global technologically-advanced, rapidly diversifying, highly-competitive business environment driven largely by increasingly sophisticated consumers.

"While these developments are rapidly unfolding, several high-profile incidents have brought a sense of urgency to the forces that are reshaping our food systems. BSE here in Europe, and recently the finding of BSE in Japan, the co-mingling of starlink corn in the U.S. food system, and of course, the outbreak of foot and mouth disease, all have received local attention, and immediately add to the challenges facing our food systems, and then there are the horrific events of September 11th, creating new concerns about security of the food supply. We are reminded that food systems need to be periodically evaluated to make sure that they keep pace with ongoing technological and social change. Strengthening our regulations, facilities and institutions, and increasing resources for research, early detection, monitoring and treatment, help protect consumers and support our farmers and ranchers.

"Infrastructure and policies must also recognize the global nature of markets today. Animal and plant diseases and food pathogens do not respect national borders, increasing the importance of countries cooperating on food safety and biosecurity. Recognizing this, we were privileged in the United States to send veterinarians and scientists to assist in the horrific outbreak of foot and mouth disease here in the U.K., and that experience not only helped farmers here, but it helped our people learn about the disease, better understanding it, so that we can better prevent and prepare should we experience an outbreak.

"Insuring food safety is one of the central roles of government, and while we recognize that foot and mouth disease is not a food safety issue, in the consumer's mind, many of us in government have the responsibility to assure consumers that this is not a food safety issue at a time when BSE and mad cow disease were being commingled in the consumers' mind, and confusion was resulting. But policy makers have a responsibility to farmers and consumers to see that food safety is common ground, not a battle ground. Today the argument is more compelling than ever for clear and common standards based on sound science. As agreed to and required after the 1994 WTO Sanitary and Phytosanitary, or what we usually call SPS Agreement. The SPS Agreement establishes clear rules that allow governments ample flexibility to fulfill their central role of protecting health and safety of the public and the agriculture industry, while at the same time preventing the abuse of SPS measures for protectionist ends.

"Unfortunately, in Europe there is now a competing concept called the Precautionary Principle, which seems to rest on the premise of the mere existence of theoretical risk. Aside from other concerns, this concept, which is not based on any objective standard, could easily block some of the most promising new agricultural products that I described earlier, especially those based on biotechnology. Over the longer term, it could deny the benefits of new technology to developing countries and stymie progress in our efforts to feed a growing global population and eradicate age-old diseases.

"Farmers, policy makers and consumers everywhere have a vital stake in ensuring not only a safe food supply but also maintaining confidence in regulatory systems and ensuring consistent standards based on the best available science. Use of standards not based in sound science carries the serious risk of confusing consumers and eroding public confidence in the food system.

"The many roles that agriculture plays today increasingly are well beyond those of traditional food production. Agriculture plays a major role in determining the rural environment, rural economies and communities. Agriculture's expanding role into new markets and consumer expectations for safe food, and environmental enhancement pose important implications for domestic farm support policies and trade obligations.

"The challenge is to craft domestic policies that recognize the new operating environment and the emerging trends, policies geared to 21st century agriculture, not to the agriculture of the past. Developing policies that accommodate this new economy is the challenge for European and U.S. policy makers and for policy makers around the rest of the world as well. For example, the wide diversity in the farm sector today calls for policies directed toward specific issues. The one-size-fits-all approach clearly is outmoded. Large commercial farms most critically need research into new uses for their products, better tools for risk management and access to global markets. All producers benefit from a strong public agriculture infrastructure that ensures consumer confidence in the food system and the integrity of the food supply based on sound science. Recognition of agriculture's non-food roles also requires careful consideration of policies that may encourage and support those functions, but not in a way that distorts trade and produces adverse consequences.

"Domestic policies now must more clearly be consistent with international commitments intended to expand trade and ensure fair play. Through experience, we have learned that market-oriented policies best serve the long-term interest of agriculture in both developed and in developing countries. It is indisputable that markets repeatedly have demonstrated their superiority in guiding the allocation of resources, investments and production patterns, providing opportunities for growth, and at the same time improving food security.

"In the U.S., and I suspect in most other countries, there is a fast-growing recognition that trade considerations and global commitments must be an integral part of domestic foreign policy deliberations.

"We were most gratified by the results of the Doha Ministerial meeting in November, particularly after the experience of Seattle, the growing concern, the growing global economic situation and the course of events of September 11th. Most nations were ready, willing and determined to move forward on the trade reform agenda. There was a sense that failure was not an option in these circumstances, and there was a strong commitment to launching a new round of negotiations.

"The new negotiations, formally called the Doha Development Agenda, will be more complex and encompassing than the previous Uruguay Round. Agriculture will again play a central role in the new round. There will be negotiations on trade and the environment, but nontrade issues cannot be allowed to undermine key WTO provisions or divert us from our primary goal. The negotiations are primarily about access, openness and trade expansion, moving forward with global trade reform. This administration fully embraces the notion that expanding trade is the most effective way to stimulate economic growth, increase incomes and promote democracy around the globe.

"The U.S. has an ambitious trade agenda. The new WTO negotiations, creation of a hemisphere-wide free-trade area for the Americas, and several important bilateral initiatives. Agriculture and food fit very prominently in that agenda. Last month's passage of trade promotion authority by the House of Representatives and approval by a key committee with full Senate approval anticipated, should send a strong signal to our trading partners that we are committed to our agenda and serious about negotiations.

"We have several objectives for the WTO negotiations in agriculture as outlined in the U.S. proposal. Market access should be increased by eliminating disparities in tariff levels and expanding access under tariff rate quotas. We also seek an end to exclusive import rights. If China can liberalize its monopoly importers, others can as well.

"We want farmers and ranchers to be able to compete in global markets on a level playing field. We call for the elimination of export subsidies, export taxes and exclusive export rights. European Union export subsidies are $4.8 billion, accounting for over 90 percent of spending by all countries on export subsidies.

"Trade-distorting domestic support should be reduced. While some draw attention to our ongoing Farm Bill deliberations, I note that both the European Union and Japan have much higher domestic support limits under the WTO than does the United States. Our proposal would simplify domestic support into two clear categories, exempt and non-exempt, as the basis for further reductions.

"We also are fully committed to addressing the needs and concerns of developing countries. One of the important developments at Doha was a clear recognition of the role of developing countries in the coming round. They have a significant stake in the negotiations. Expanded trade and market-oriented policies can help foster economic growth and reduce poverty. But developing countries must be in a position to take full advantage of opportunities offered by liberalized trade. This has given rise to much discussion about capacity building, working with developing countries to approve their ability to effectively participate in trade negotiations, meet trade commitments, and also capitalize on new access to U.S., European and other markets. We cannot expect developing countries to embrace the trade reform agenda unless they perceive that they too will have a share in its benefits.

"The Doha declaration provides for trade capacity building, and the United States, among others, stands ready to provide assistance in technical expertise, technology sharing, infrastructure development and other areas. This may present an opportunity for the U.S. and the European Union to develop cooperative efforts toward this end.

"I am told that 66 years ago, in 1936, British farmers and other agriculturalists gathered for the very first Oxford Farming Conference. They met to confront a major challenge, how to deal with the arrival of combine harvesters and how that might affect agriculture here.

"As we meet at the beginning of 2002 new waves of technology are again sweeping through the food system. The challenges are different, broader and more complex. It bears repeating that agriculture now operates in a global, rapidly-changing, consumer-driven economic environment. Because the new environment is so vastly different from the relatively insular commodity-based agriculture of the past, policy and institutions must clearly adapt. We must take the long view. We must step back and determine, as best we can, the future requirements of our food system, recognizing the global context, and put into place policies and investments that will serve agriculture and all of us who depend upon it. Future agricultural policies must be market oriented. They must contribute to economic growth in developing countries. They must encourage more international trade, and they must promise the development of new technologies and products which provide new opportunities for farmers and ranchers. In short, they must integrate agriculture into the global economy, not insulate us from it.

"What we cannot do is ignore the changes. Agriculture is not standing still. For agriculture policy, domestic or international, the status quo is not an option. The U.S. and the European Union have been working to improve trade relations and manage our differences in a spirit of mutual respect. Japan played a very helpful, positive and instructive role in the Doha Ministerial. These are encouraging developments. In the aftermath of September 11th, nations have proved once again, that when confronted with a critical challenge, they can unite and work together cooperatively, and by all indications, successfully toward a common goal.

"Britain has been our staunchest ally in the war on terrorism, standing shoulder to shoulder with us, evidence of the strong historical ties that bind us. Market access, trade expansion and trade reform are also critical goals in which we have a common interest. They are critical goals for global trade and economic growth, for helping the developing world reduce poverty and hunger, and for the long term, viability and strength of British, American and European agriculture.

Thank you very much."