(July 8) Market Access Program allocations for fresh fruit and other commodities will rise to $100 million this year.

That’s because of the 2002 farm bill, which immediately increased the funding by $10 million. More important, the program, which promotes U.S. exports, will see its funding steadily increase until it doubles to $200 million in 2006, according to provisions in the farm legislation.

But all of that money will fail to be effective if President Bush doesn’t have trade promotion authority. At least that’s what Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick say. And they make a good point.

The Senate and House of Representatives have passed trade bills but have not named conference committee members to resolve the differences in the two measures. Until a resolution to the bills occurs, Bush’s ability to negotiate trade deals is severely hampered.

The argument for trade promotion authority, which would remove Congress from debate on the details of trade agreements and allow only a yes or no vote, is compelling.

Tariffs on agricultural products, for example, are much higher in other countries than in the U.S.

American growers would reap the benefits if those tariffs were reduced or eliminated.

Worldwide, an estimated 150 trade agreements are in force. The U.S. is party to only three. One of every three acres’ worth of product in the U.S. is exported.

Quite simply, the U.S. needs to expand its markets and work to reduce the tariffs imposed by its trading partners, thus looking after the interests of domestic fruit and vegetable producers.

The importance of finding and serving new markets cannot be overstated, and promotion plays a key role. Congress should iron out its trade bill differences and grant the president trade promotion authority.