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Beef industry seeks quick end to trade disputes

February 16, 2002|By JENNIFER SARANOW, Special to this newspaper

WASHINGTON (MNS) — Representatives of the cattle industry in the Imperial Valley and nationwide said Thursday it's imperative the Bush administration work toward resolving trade disputes over U.S. beef exports with countries in the European Union and Mexico.

"We need not just free trade but fair trade," said Robert Lofton, co-owner of Superior Cattle Feeders LLC in Calipatria. "Under our current structure, we still don't have the ability to trade freely with countries such as Mexico and Korea and countries in Europe. We need to continue to work to lower their tariffs, raise quotas and just generally open up the markets."

The chief economist at the National Cattlemen's Beef Association agreed.

"Our primary focus for the Bush administration this year on the trade side is getting to a multilateral round of negotiations so we can gain more access to markets with high tariffs such as Japan and Korea and we still have virtually no access to Europe," said economist Chuck Lambert.

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President Bush is set to speak at the association's conference Friday on his way to Salt Lake City for the Winter Olympics. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick told the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday that the administration has gone on the offense to combat the increasing use of trade remedy laws and trade-distorting practices against U.S. exporters. He said there are more than 60 orders against American companies.

"Given America's relative openness, we can only maintain domestic support for trade if we retain strong, effective laws against unfair practices," Zoellick said in a statement. "(At a recent World Trade Organization meeting,) working closely with the Commerce Department, we stressed and pressed this point vigorously. We then advanced an offensive agenda in this area."

Zoellick said "U.S. farmers are increasingly the victims" of these laws, so fighting the laws to ensure an open and free trading system is especially important for the U.S. agricultural industry, which he said relies on trade more than twice as much as other industries.

According to Lynn Heinze, spokesman for the U.S. Meat Export Federation, such unfair practices against the United States include the European ban on U.S. beef because it contains hormones used to stimulate cattle growth. The United States imposed a $116.8 million trade retaliation on European food products. Other examples include Mexico's recent anti-dumping laws against U.S. beef exports and Korea's continuing high tariffs for U.S. beef.

Lofton said the Imperial Valley especially could benefit from elimination of the laws because of its location close to the Pacific Ocean, a prime locale from which to export beef to Asia in addition to neighboring Mexico. Zoellick also said at the hearing the declaration reached by members of the WTO last November made clear that trade remedy laws "are essential and should not be undermined."

These laws are resources for an industry to turn to if they believe another country is selling goods cheaper in the United States than the market price (known as dumping) or engaging in other illegal trade activity.

Zoellick said he and other WTO members plan to engage in discussion on why these practices occur in the first place. Heinze said that as the United States enters trade negotiations it should remember "that anything we do in a way of a trade barrier in terms of WTO or other agreements worldwide, opens the door for other countries to establish similar barriers against us."

Some in the cattle industry have urged stricter testing and import regulations to ensure the safety of the U.S. meat market as well as mandatory country-of-origin labeling for meat products.

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