Trading partners must 'play by the rules': Kirk

by Bryan Salvage
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WASHINGTON — U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk recently told members of the U.S. Meat Export Federation he is committed to making U.S. exports a cornerstone of the nation’s economic recovery. But trading partners must honor their commitments and grant fair and consistent market access to U.S. products in order to do so.

"Our goal at U.S.T.R. is to continue to give you greater access to more international markets for America’s high-quality beef and pork," he said. "We believe one of the best ways we can do that is by stronger enforcement of existing rules."

Recently imposed trade suspensions on U.S. pork — and in some cases beef — due to A-H1N1 Influenza were addressed. "More than a dozen countries imposed trade restrictions on U.S. agricultural products without scientific justification as a result of that outbreak," Mr. Kirk said. "As much as $900 million in annual U.S. exports could potentially be in jeopardy."

China and Russia are the most problematic markets in this regard, Mr. Kirk said. Russia had already been systematically limiting market access for U.S. pork through what Mr. Kirk termed "arbitrary delisting" of U.S. processing plants. He added it would be a profound mistake to assume these interruptions in trade will only be temporary — one lesson livestock producers have learned in recent years.

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. "You either take care of the problems, or you’re out of office," he added.

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 U.S. beef. While the agreement is not everything U.S. farmers and ranchers wanted, Mr. Kirk said it would 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."

U.S.M.E.F. members approved two resolutions during their annual meeting. One calls for greater flexibility in U.S. 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 guidelines. The other resolution supports consistent, science-based trade policies for both U.S. exports and imports that will help the U.S. avoid trade impasses in which a trading partner that feels it is being treated unfairly exerts leverage by limiting or prohibiting market access for U.S. meat.

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