WASHINGTON — In his first address to an agricultural trade association as a member of President Obama’s Cabinet, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk told members of the U.S. Meat Export Federation 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 trading partners must honor their commitments and grant fair and consistent market access to U.S. products.
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.
“We have raised these concerns with our Russian counterparts and will continue to press for resolution of these issues,” Kirk said.
Won’t be temporary
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.
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.
His negotiating team struck 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 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.”
U.S. Meat Export Federation members also heard from newly-appointed Foreign Agricultural Service Administrator Michael Michener, which concluded the 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 the federation to advance the interests of the nation’s farmers and ranchers.
Members concluded their annual business meeting by approving two resolutions.
One resolution 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.