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NAFTA, WTO Help U.S. Farmers: WSU Economist

PULLMAN, Wash. — Notwithstanding a recent report blaming the North American Free Trade Agreement for America’s agricultural woes, many Northwest farmers are benefiting from NAFTA, says a Washington State University agricultural economist.

Thomas Wahl, director of WSU’s International Marketing Program for Agricultural Commodities and Trade Center, says NAFTA and trade liberalization have increased Northwest farmers’ access to most agricultural markets.

The Asian financial crisis and the strength of the U.S. dollar has reduced demand and many commodities have experienced several years of world-wide abundance. The result has been lower prices world-wide. Although Asian markets are improving, U.S. exports to most Asian countries remain below pre-crisis levels.

The value of trade liberalization agreements such as NAFTA, Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation and World Trade Organization is the reduction of trade barriers that allow increased access to international markets for Northwest products. The agreements also harmonize standards that allow us to compete more effectively in international markets.

Labeling, genetic modified organisms and other important issues that agriculture will face in the next five years are included in the WTO’s technical barriers to trade provisions.

While provisions of these trade agreements present challenges for U.S. producers, they also help ensure that foreign products meet U.S. standards, Wahl said.

Wahl said the Global Trade Watch report issued Tuesday fails to recognize the effects that the world economy and changes in the way U.S. agricultural policy supports producers have had on agriculture, independent of NAFTA.

Public Citizen, a consumer watch-dog organization with headquarters in Washington D.C., examines NAFTA’s effects on American agriculture in a report, “Down on the Farm: NAFTA’s Seven-Years War on Farmers and Ranchers in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.”

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