WASHINGTON (B)--Eight former U.S. secretaries of agriculture urged Congress to approve permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) between the U.S. and China, arguing that U.S. farmers stand to gain considerably from the resulting lower Chinese tariffs and the end of the Chinese government monopoly on farm trade.

"We have nothing to lose by passing (permanent normal trade relations). This is not like most other trade agreements, where we have to give something in order to get something in return," an open letter from the eight former secretaries of agriculture said. "Since our market is already open to China, we are entirely on the receiving end of all the concessions."

Endorsing the stance were the secretaries who have represented the administration on agriculture matters for the last 40 years: Orville Freeman, who served in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations; Clifford Hardin and Earl Butz, who both served under Nixon; Bob Bergland, secretary of agriculture during the Carter years; Reagan's two secretaries of agriculture John Block and Richard Lyng; Clayton Yeutter, secretary during the first half of the Bush administration; and Mike Espy, President Clinton's first secretary of agriculture.

The eight former secretaries warned that the "U.S. has everything to lose" if Congress fails to pass permanent PNTR with China.

"China is still likely to become a WTO member, but we would be left on the outside looking in...We would be walking away from an increase of approximately $2 billion in annual farm export sales. It would amount to a kind of unilateral economic disarmament," the former Secretaries of Agriculture said.

The letter is the latest endorsement of permanent PNTR by former U.S. officials. Also on April 10, nine former U.S. Treasury secretaries sent an open letter to the president endorsing the move to permanent PNTR with China.

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