Public Papers

Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session With Agricultural Journalists


The President. Thank you, Clayton Yeutter, our distinguished Secretary of Agriculture. And, Gary, thank you for monitoring us here and, Brenda, thank you for those words of welcome.

You know, American farmers got good news at the GATT [General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade] agricultural talks in Geneva a couple of weeks ago. G-A-T-T, known as GATT, was set up to provide these international rules of trade. And there was a renewed commitment by the 96 participating nations to long-term agricultural reform, benefiting farmers, consumers, and taxpayers all around the world. And there was a new road map for the final 2 years of negotiations.

America's goals for this trade round have not changed. Clayt, you fought for this when you were the U.S. Trade Representative and now as Secretary of Agriculture. The goals haven't changed; the bottom line is fairness for the American farmer. And we seek a level playing field for our farmers: the eventual elimination of export subsidies, import barriers, and other devices that distort trade and create bogus incentives to grow products for which no markets exist. On a level playing field, where neither side has the home team advantage, American farmers can compete with anybody in the world. And we'd have an export boom if we had that kind of international market.

The American people are behind you in these negotiations. We will not take actions, short-term or long-term, that aren't matched by the European Community and the other developed nations. We're not about to disarm unilaterally in agriculture. And we want to get rid of the impediments that keep us from exporting.

The American public is also deeply concerned about economic conditions in our rural communities. And that means, need to diversify in our rural economies -- creating more jobs in these rural areas. In a response, we're developing a new working group on rural development. It's chaired by the Secretary of Agriculture, and I know he'll be glad to talk about that. It'll have senior leaders from every arm of government with outreach to rural America. And to the listeners today, we would welcome your ideas. Economic stress in rural areas is not just numbers and statistics and bushels of wheat: It's people and pride and sweat and families that need help now.

And then lastly, to provide some extra money to farmers early in the crop year, today we are announcing additional advance deficiency payments for farmers who sign up for the 1989 wheat, feed grain, rice, and upland cotton programs. This will mean an additional 10 percent of projected deficiency payments, or a total of about 0 million for American farmers.

And this the final thought, before we go to the questions from the farm broadcasters: A breakthrough budget compromise was reached with Congress on Friday. It came early, and that's good news for all Americans.

We're listening. We are with the American farmer in these tough times. And we're here today to take some questions, and thank you very much.

Agricultural Exports

Q. Mr. President, I'd like to pursue the area of agricultural trade. Until this morning, we had been using our agricultural trade through the Export Enhancement Program to maintain, and perhaps to gain, some new markets. There are those who say that we should use our food exports as a foreign policy tool as well. Do you and your administration see using the food that we can produce for other countries as a foreign policy tool?

The President. No, sir, not if I'm interpreting your question correctly, because when I think of foreign policy tool, my mind goes back to singling out agriculture in a trade embargo against the Soviet Union. And I will not do that as President of the United States. I know our able Secretary of Agriculture is on the same side of this one. We will not use food as a diplomatic tool. We are rebuilding confidence in American agriculture in terms of reliability in foreign markets, and we're going to have to continue to do that. And one way to reverse that out and set back exports would be to use food as a diplomatic tool. And I'm not going to do that.

Drought Relief

Q. Mr. President, all the farm broadcasters appreciate your openness and Secretary Yeutter's openness to American agriculture. You mentioned the advanced deficiency payment increases, and being the fact that Kansas crop, especially wheat, so devastated by the drought conditions -- will this be the sum total of Federal action for producers who've lost crops to drought -- increase in deficiency payments?

The President. Well, I wouldn't say the sum total. And I'd let Secretary Yeutter share with you, as he did with me in the Oval Office, his views on his recent trip to Kansas, where he saw firsthand the suffering and the concern of American farmers. So, I wouldn't say this will be all that can be done. I do think that because farmers are still experiencing these dry conditions in the Midwest and in other parts of the Nation that this program will help -- advancing the payments. But on the other hand, I'd leave to Clayton what steps further we might take, but I can tell you this: Because of his standing in the agricultural community and his day-to-day contact with farmers, I will be very openminded over in the White House if he comes over with additional suggestions or recommendations. So, this should not be viewed as the definitive answer. We hope it is something that will help the farm family.

Secretary Yeutter. I'll do just a quick supplement to that so that we don't cut into the valuable time of the President of the United States. But just to say, as you know, Mark [Mark Vail, Kansas Agriculture Network, Topeka, KS], I visited Kansas, along with Senators Dole and Kassebaum and Congressman Roberts, on Friday. Governor Hayden [of Kansas] accompanied us. The Governor has submitted a followup letter already. It came in today. We're going to analyze all that very carefully over the next few days, and we'll see what we can do. Clearly, we don't have an open spigot that just spits out Federal dollars in any situation today. I made that point clear when I was in Kansas. But we'll be as sympathetic and accommodative as we can be within rather severe budgetary constraints.

Agriculture Budget

Q. Good afternoon, Mr. President. And by the way, greetings from the Concho Valley and the Permian Basin. Since your budget announcement Friday, there has been a lot of concern voiced by Congressmen de la Garza and Stenholm on the House Agriculture Committee that agriculture is being asked to take more than its fair share of cuts in spending. Now, in your campaign, you assured farmers that the budget would not be balanced on their backs, and I just wonder, how do you react to these concerns?

The President. Well, Roddy [Roddy Peeples, Southwest Agriculture Network, San Angelo, TX], first, greetings to Tom Green County out there, and I'm delighted to be talking to you. Secondly, my view is this: We are in perilous budget deficit times. We have got to get the deficit down, and the best thing we can do to help the American farmer is to get these interest rates down. And the best way to do that is to make the tough decision on the spending side of our budget. Now, having said that, I feel that farmers are fairplay. I mentioned earlier the grain embargo. One of the things that irks the farmers -- properly -- is that they were asked to carry the whole burden, and here we're not. Yes, ag has taken a hit, but so has a wide array of programs across the board. And I think what we've done here is fair.

The program is still there and vigorous and high levels of spending -- billion I think is the figure. And so, I hope that nobody feels that this is an unfair approach to getting the deficit down. But I can guarantee you that if we are successful -- and I've done this, incidentally, this first step, without raising taxes on the American farmer -- if we are successful here, then you're going to have the biggest benefit to the farmers at all: You're going to have a lower interest rate, a continued growing economy. And then, if we succeed overseas, you're going to have a vigorous new market for ag products. So please, I can understand Chairman de la Garza, my friend from south Texas, and -- who was it? -- Charlie Stenholm, who is out there from east and north of you; but I'll tell you I think in the final analysis, we'll convince them that this is an equitable approach to our budget.

Agricultural Exports

Q. Mr. President, it's a real privilege to have this opportunity to visit with you today. And I'd like to return to what you opened with, and that's the good news of the GATT talks and the effect that might be seen on the new farm bill. I know that Secretary Yeutter has referred to that; he said he may want to alter the content, have more leverage in the GATT negotiations. Would you comment on that, please?

The President. Well, Dix [Dix Harper, Tobacco Network, Raleigh, NC], first, thank you, sir, for the greeting, and I'll let Clayton in a minute go into a little more detail. But what happened over there was that an international community reluctant to discuss agriculture has finally understood that we've got to go forward. Now, we have agricultural Export Enhancement Program. Others have had that for a long time. Others gripe when the United States farmer gets the same incentive built into the system that they themselves have enjoyed for a long time. We understand that. We understand the screams coming from them. But the good news is we've got this on the agenda; we will be able to move forward now to freer markets and to less protection.

And so, the upcoming farm bill can indeed be used as leverage, you might say, because we are not going to unilaterally disarm, if you will. We're not going to take cuts unilaterally based on some verbal assurance from people that have excluded our products from their market. So, we've moved forward at GATT. We've got a farm bill where we're not going to back away and make unilateral concessions to others. But the climate is better. And I'll let Clayton, if he will, fill in a little bit more detail on that.

Secretary Yeutter. As you know, we've got 20 months to go in these negotiations, as they wrap up on time at the end of 1990. We hope they will, and we believe that the agreement that was reached in Geneva just a few days ago is going to contribute to that end. We had a good week in Geneva. We got the kind of long-term commitment we wanted, and now we simply have to fight this out at the negotiating table.

But as President Bush said, we certainly want to do the right things in next year's farm bill to contribute to that negotiating environment. In other words, we sure don't want to give away any negotiating leverage, and if possible, we've got to try to enhance it. In that regard, by the way, I'm going to be testifying to the Senate Ag Committee tomorrow morning in the first hearing that'll be held on the farm bill. You may want to take a look at my testimony when it's available tomorrow, because it'll have some statements on this subject that'll be quite definitive and specific.

Q. Mr. President, you frequently linked ag and exports in public comments and once suggested that Secretary Yeutter was hardly changing his job in moving from USTR [U.S. Trade Representative] to Agriculture. With the steep debt we've got and with the favorable import balance agriculture brings, should U.S. producers be worried the Government's use for them now is strictly as earners of currency to stanch the flow of assets out of this country?

The President. No, they shouldn't have any concern on that because we are -- let me just repeat, using this phrase ``unilateral disarmament'' -- we are not going to unilaterally disarm. And I still feel deep in my heart that if we can get fewer barriers the American farmer can compete in all kinds of areas. And I'm including dairy in this, where we haven't competed much before. And so, we're not going to take unilateral hits in agriculture, because agriculture in many areas is benefiting our whole international trade position.

Secretary Yeutter. And we do want to be big export earners, as a matter of fact. Gary [Gary Digiuseppe, Brownfield Network, Centertown, MO], as you well know, the more markets we can open up overseas, the more exports we'll have. And agriculture will continue to make a very positive contribution to the trade balance. And that'll be good because that'll also result in higher farm incomes. And that's what all of us want, and the President's strongly supportive of that.

Secretary of Agriculture Yeutter

The President. Gary, there was one person that wasn't sure that Secretary Yeutter was doing exactly the same thing, and that was Mrs. Yeutter. Because I think they had had plans to go back to the private sector. And I got with Clayton, and I said, ``Look, it is absolutely essential to our country that you agree to serve as Secretary of Agriculture.'' And it was one of the best decisions, I think, that I've made. And of course, I was grateful that he set aside his private-sector plan -- and his wife very graciously understood this -- so he once again could serve, and did it in a portfolio here that is just vital, and not just in your area of question, international trade, but to our whole economy. So, I'm grateful the Secretary did differentiate here.

Secretary Yeutter. Thank you, Mr. President. That's a very gracious and generous comment and a true story. Your time with us is up, I'm sorry to say, Mr. President. But on behalf of everybody in American agriculture, I want to thank you for coming, and then I'll stay on and answer a few more questions.

The President. Well -- and I would apologize to those whose questions I didn't get to take. And I was talking to Clayt -- he came over to the White House. And I wish that all of you who love nature and love the Mother Earth could have been with Clayton Yeutter and me as we walked through the beautiful Rose Garden area of the White House. It is at its most beautiful this time of year. And I get a kick out of seeing all the tourists from middle America and agricultural America and everyplace coming to the ``people's house.''

But having said all that, we were talking about this first program of this nature. And I told Clayt that, if agreeable and if we didn't foul it up too bad in this first session, that I would welcome coming back here to this little studio in the Ag Department to take questions from you, the important voices of agriculture in America. So, thanks for your hospitality. And as Douglas MacArthur said, ``I shall return.'' Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 1:18 p.m., during the Farm Radio Broadcast, in the Department of Agriculture broadcasting studio. In his opening remarks, he referred to announcers Gary Crawford and Brenda Curtis.