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Ventura County Perspective

Everyone Benefits if Trade Status Extended

Reps. Gallegly and Sherman would serve their constituents by supporting 'permanent normal' trading relations with China, a major untapped market for agriculture and other businesses.

May 21, 2000|RICHARD PIDDUCK | Richard Pidduck of Santa Paula is past president of the Ventura County Farm Bureau

Ventura County agriculture is a small voice in its support for granting permanent normal trade relations to China, an issue scheduled for congressional vote this week. Although our voice is small, it's an important voice because our own Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley) is undeclared on this major issue directly affecting all of California.

This issue resonates loudly in Ventura County agriculture, yet all California stands to benefit if trade relations are normalized, oriented as our economy is to Pacific Rim trade.

Locally, our citrus industry depends on exports for more than 30% of sales. Even so, orange prices are near historic lows due to industry expansion and the globalization of markets. Orange growers, who are mainly family farmers, are awash in red ink. New markets are desperately needed if the pastoral sight of orange groves is to remain a hallmark of our county.

In earlier eras, California with its specialty crop focus ruled the seas with its export and free trade prowess. But other countries have watched and learned, with their eyes on U.S. dollars.

Now with free trade our national policy, the worldwide spread of U.S. agricultural technology and market globalization, other countries are skilled competitors for markets that were once ours by default.

This includes the prized U.S. domestic market. In this environment, agriculture is increasingly dependent on its ability to gain new market access overseas for sales and revenue development.

China, the most populous nation on Earth, is the major untapped market available to California agriculture. U.S. trade negotiators, after many years of very difficult work, recently won access for California citrus into China. Initial shipments have been sent there, and the fine work of our government negotiators is roundly applauded.

However, these hard-won gains will be jeopardized if permanent normal trade relations status, or PNTR, which is a precursor to China gaining World Trade Organization membership, is not granted. Under the WTO, China would be required to comply with the same rules and laws that govern terms of trade for the other 137 member countries. This would be a huge benefit to the U.S. and to agriculture, as our country is already wide open to Chinese products.

WTO membership for China would also give us more leverage than we have today to induce change in China in areas of security, human rights and the environment.

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Why keep China out? Isolation has not been a very good tool of American foreign policy. Witness Cuba for 40 years or, more recently, Iran.

Only through engagement without blinders can we hope to promote the evolutionary change that is already occurring within China. Only through engagement can we decrease the chance of cataclysmic events in China that are in nobody's interest.

The world and our place in it are changing rapidly, often outstripping the ability of governments to keep pace. This is an opportunity for our government to be proactive rather than reactive.

Without PNTR, the benefits of Chinese trade will likely accrue to our overseas competitors at our expense. With PNTR for China, we have a chance to advance not only Ventura County's and California's economic interests, but also China's integration into the world community.

It should be a no-brainer. That is why so many agricultural and nonagricultural organizations alike have been urging Congress to grant PNTR for China.

Yet Gallegly remains undeclared on the issue and Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks), whose district includes a portion of Ventura County, strongly opposes the action. "Maybe Sunkist will be able to sell a few oranges for a few years," he recently told The Times, "but then [the Chinese] will come back to Sunkist in a few years and say, 'We're going to turn off access to your market if your government keeps selling weapons to Taiwan.' ")

Both congressmen would well serve their community if they decided to take the farsighted road of statesmanship and support PNTR for China.

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