Good morning and welcome to Ambassador Barshefsky. I believe Ambassador Barshefsky has been one of the most effective trade representatives we've ever had.
The Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) began in 1986 and was eventually concluded when the final agreements were signed on April 15, 1994. It took 8 years from start to finish. It is my hope that the Seattle Round can be concluded in a more timely fashion. I say this because there are sectors of the American economy, such as agriculture, that desperately need better access to foreign markets to sell their goods.
As we approach the millennium, we must ensure that U.S. trade and investment remain the powerful engines of economic growth that have helped to produce the longest period of peacetime economic expansion in American history and the lowest unemployment rate in 30 years. Ninety-six percent of the world's customers live outside of the United States. This means that the future growth of the American economy depends on expanding world markets.
The Seattle Round presents an opportunity for the United States to remain the world leader of the global economy. If the United States does not take a strong leadership role, a vacuum will be created that will be filled by proponents of protectionist policies. We cannot allow this to happen.
The United States must take the lead in crafting an agenda for the Seattle WTO ministerial and for a new round that is focused on trade liberalization. That agenda should avoid globally divisive issues, such as labor or environment matters or competition policy, on which there is not yet a broad-based consensus within the WTO. These issues are important, but the Seattle Round is not the forum for these agendas. If contentious issues, such as environmental or labor issues, dominate the ministerial, confidence in the global trading system and U.S. leadership will be undermined.
I would like to conclude my statement by mentioning an issue of importance to my state of Nebraska. The Seattle Round presents us with an opportunity to make good on certain promises made to American farmers and ranchers. During debate on the 1996 Freedom to Farm bill, Congress promised our agricultural producers that we would focus our energies on opening up foreign markets to U.S. goods. We have not fulfilled this promise. A successful Seattle Round that eliminates or substantially reduces tariff and non-tariff trade barriers would go a long way toward fulfilling our promises and helping our farmers and ranchers recover from the devastation of the Asian financial crisis and excess supply. I urge the Administration to devote substantial time and resources to eliminating barriers to agricultural trade.
I look forward to Ambassador Barshefsky's testimony.