USTR: Trading partners must play by rules, too

Jun 5, 2009
by WLJ
USTR: Trading partners must play by rules, too

In his first address to an agricultural trade association as a member of President Obama’s Cabinet, U.S. Trade Representative (US- TR) Ron Kirk told members of the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) that he is committed to making U.S. exports a cornerstone of the nation’s economic recovery.

In order to do so, however, he emphasized that trading partners must honor their commitments and grant fair and consistent market access to U.S. products.

“Our goal at USTR is pretty simple, and that’s to continue to give you greater access to more international markets for America’s highquality beef and pork,” he said. “We believe that one of the best ways that we can do that is by stronger enforcement of existing rules.”

Kirk was especially critical of trade suspensions recently imposed on U.S. pork—and, in some cases, beef—due to A-H1N1 Influenza.

“More than a dozen countries imposed trade restrictions on U.S. agricultural products without scientific justification as a result of that outbreak,” he said. “For us, this is a big deal. As much as $900 million in annual U.S. exports could potentially be in jeopardy.”

The most problematic markets in this regard are China and Russia, Kirk said. He also noted that Russia had already been systematically limiting market access for U.S. pork through what he termed “arbitrary delisting” of U.S. processing plants.

He added that it would be a profound mistake to simply assume these interruptions in trade will only be temporary.

“As I was visiting with the USMEF leadership (earlier today), they not-so-gently reminded me that when the BSE scare hit us in 2003, everybody said, ‘Oh, don’t worry. In six months it will all be over and we’ll be back to normal.’ Well as you all know, six years later, here we still are with a lot of our beef frozen out of important markets,” he said. Kirk said his previous experience as mayor of Dallas, TX, gave him a “raging sense of pragmatism” that makes him truly appreciate the practical impact his policy decisions have on everyday citizens and leads him to strive for actual, tangible results.

“Being a mayor is a job in which you live and work with the people that you serve,” he said. “When you’re the mayor, you don’t get to go home and explain to people why the Republicans wouldn’t let you fix their potholes, or why the Democrats wouldn’t let you pick up their trash. You either take care of the problems, or you’re out of office.”

He said this philosophy was one of the guiding principles that helped his negotiating team strike a com promise agreement with the European Union in the long, contentious battle over imports of U.S. beef. While the agreement is not everything U.S. farmers and ranchers were hoping for, Kirk said it will provide measurable benefits for the U.S. beef industry.

“This agreement will provide U.S. producers with significant additional access—more importantly, at zero duty—to the European Union market for high quality beef that have not been treated with growth-promoting hormones,” he said. “And the agreement gives us a chance to step forward toward a longer-term settlement of this issue.”

Kirk said he not only welcomes the input of agricultural producers on matters of trade, he knows it is absolutely essential to his success as the nation’s top trade official.

“You don’t have to be in this job for 30 days, or 60 days, or six months to understand one fundamental truth: No major trade agreement has ever been advanced in this country without the strong, enthusiastic support of the agricultural community.”— WLJ