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Kirk to USMEF: Trading Partners Must Play by Rules

by 5m Editor
26 May 2009, at 9:18am

US - In his first address to an agricultural trade association as a member of President Obama’s Cabinet, US Trade Representative Ron Kirk told members of the US Meat Export Federation on Friday that he is committed to making US 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 US 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 high-quality 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.”

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

"More than a dozen countries imposed trade restrictions on US 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 US exports could potentially be in jeopardy.”

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

"We have raised these concerns with our Russian counterparts and will continue to press for resolution of these issues," Mr Kirk said. He added that it would be a profound mistake to simply assume these interruptions in trade will only be temporary – a lesson livestock producers have learned all too well in recent years.

“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.

Mr Kirk said his previous experience as mayor of Dallas 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 compromise agreement with the European Union in the long, contentious battle over imports of US beef. While the agreement is not everything US farmers and ranchers were hoping for, Mr Kirk said it will provide measurable benefits for the US 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.”

Mr 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.”

USMEF Vice Chair Keith Miller, a farmer-stockman from Great Bend, Kan., said Kirk delivered a powerful message that was well-received by USMEF members.

“He was very inspiring and showed that he really understands our concerns about market access,” Mr Miller said. “I feel this man is truly in our corner, trying to help make US agriculture profitable and help us be able to feed people across the world.”

USMEF members also heard from newly-appointed Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) Administrator Michael Michener at Friday’s session, which concluded USMEF’s annual board of directors meeting. Having been raised on an Iowa farm and served in three different foreign affairs agencies, Michener said he looks forward to working with USMEF to advance the interests of the nation’s farmers and ranchers.

“Over the years, FAS has developed a solid partnership with USMEF – a partnership with a common objective of expanding export markets for the US beef, pork and lamb industries,” he said. “Your organization serves as a vital link between decision makers here in Washington and producers and exporters throughout the nation.”

USMEF members concluded their annual business meeting by approving two resolutions. One resolution calls for greater flexibility in US trade policy that will accommodate incremental gains in market access for beef, rather than an approach that insists on full compliance with International Organization for Animal Health (OIE) guidelines. The other resolution supports consistent, science-based trade policies for both US exports and imports that will help the United States avoid trade impasses in which a trading partner that feels it is being treated unfairly exerts leverage by limiting or prohibiting market access for US meat.