- The Washington Times - Friday, March 19, 2010

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

So far, I’ve been cautiously optimistic about the Obama administration’s trade policies. U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk has certainly been saying the right things when it comes to expanding U.S. market access and holding our international trading partners accountable to fair and open trade policies. But with the U.S. economy continuing to suffer, and with other countries outpacing us in the race to ratify new trade agreements, it’s time to move forward and take action. We can’t afford to wait; every day that passes without progress puts American jobs and market share at risk.

In this economy, we must do everything in our power to help American businesses. Ten percent, or approximately 12 million American jobs, depend on exports. Yet we’re letting some of our closest trading partners limit our exports to their countries in violation of international guidelines. For instance, Japan closed its markets to U.S. beef in 2003 after the discovery of one Canadian-born cow infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in the state of Washington. To this day, Japan continues to restrict a large quantity of U.S. beef from entering the country.

A 2006 USDA study found that BSE was virtually nonexistent in the United States. Internationally, it is likely that BSE will be fully eradicated from the planet within the next 10 to 15 years. In fact, the internationally recognized standard-setting body, the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), has classified the United States as a controlled-risk country for BSE (the same ranking as Japan) - meaning U.S. beef is safe for export and consumption. More recently, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association asked our government to pursue negligible risk at the OIE, driving home the point that the United States has done an impeccable job of eliminating this animal health issue from our cattle herd.

Japan’s unscientific trade restriction is not consistent with fair-trade practices nor with U.S. treatment of Japanese imports, and it continues to cost the U.S. beef industry - limiting us to about 25 percent of our potential market there (or $1 billion in lost beef exports each year).

During a recent Senate hearing on Toyota’s safety issues and recall, Sen. Mike Johanns, Nebraska Republican, called attention to this imbalance in our trading relationship with Japan. Mr. Johanns questioned how the Japanese would react if the U.S. likewise banned imports of Japanese cars until the Japanese government proved they are safe. The point is not that the U.S. should begin an unscientific ban like this - the point is that Japan must end its beef ban. The United States must emphasize to Japan and all of our international trading partners the necessity of abiding by OIE guidelines in beef trade. Along those lines, Mr. Johanns and Sen. Blanche Lincoln, Arkansas Democrat, have introduced a resolution calling on the Obama administration to demand that Japan immediately grant increased market access for U.S. beef. Every member of the Senate should support this bipartisan resolution.

But it shouldn’t stop there. We need to work on other markets, including Taiwan, Korea, China and even Mexico. China is the only major market still closed to U.S. beef and represents one of the largest potential growth markets for us - worth in excess of $200 million.

It’s also critical that we move forward on the immediate passage of our pending free-trade agreements (FTAs). Passage of the U.S.-Korea (KORUS) FTA would mean $15 million in tariff benefits for beef in the first year of the agreement alone, with about $325 million in tariff reductions once fully implemented. And with other countries, such as Australia, negotiating FTAs of their own with South Korea, immediate passage of KORUS is more important than ever. If Australia successfully ratifies a similar bilateral trade agreement with Korea a year before we do, it would give the Australians a 2.67 percent tariff advantage over U.S. beef for the next 15 years. This would be devastating to the U.S. beef industry, and sadly, the losses would be of our own doing. The importance of ratifying these FTAs reaches beyond just the beef industry. For each day that Congress does not approve the Colombia FTA, American exporters overall pay $2 million in unnecessary tariffs.

After more than six years of talking about opening markets for U.S. beef, the time to act is now.

Steve Foglesong is president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and owner of Black Gold Ranch in Illinois.

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