Analysis: U.S. Trade Representative Focuses on Ag Exports

March 31, 2010 07:00 PM
 


Roger Bernard
, Farm Journal Policy & Washington Editor

Trade barriers remain in place against U.S. ag goods on a host of fronts, ranging from animal disease issues to other trade restrictions. That's the conclusion of a pair of reports issued by the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR).

But this year, there was a particular focus on agriculture. Typically, an administration will issue what's called the National Trade Estimates (NTE) report on trade barriers. In that report are assessments of the barriers to trade that countries maintain around the globe. The report details those on a by-country and product basis.

Besides the NTE report, USTR added a second report to the schedule. This one focuses on the key issue of sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) barriers that U.S. ag products face around the globe. "This report is focused on SPS measures that appear to be unscientific, unduly burdensome, discriminatory, or otherwise unwarranted and create significant barriers to U.S. exports," USTR said in the report. "Many of these measures are hard to detect and can present particular challenges for small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) that typically lack the resources to identify and address such barriers. This report is intended to describe and advance U.S. efforts to identify and eliminate these measures."

Following are some highlights of the report on SPS issues facing U.S. ag exports:

BSE: "28 countries that continue either to ban U.S. beef entirely or impose other OIE-inconsistent restrictions on US beef products. Such measures represent unwarranted foreign SPS trade barriers and greatly burden U.S. beef producers. Moreover, the discrepancy in BSE-related measures in different markets represents a separate burden and undercuts the comparative advantage of U.S. exporters. USDA currently maintains 11 country-specific export verification programs for U.S. beef exports, plus three additional programs covering beef for human consumption, and one program for SRM-free inedible material."

Avian influenza: "The U.S. government has successfully had 36 AI-related bans lifted since 2008. It remains a high priority for the United States to remove the remaining AI-related import bans on U.S. poultry and poultry products that authorities in India, China, and other countries have imposed."

Ractopamine: "Despite the scientific evidence attesting to the safety of ractopamine, a number of important trading partners, including China, the EU, Taiwan, and Thailand continue to ban imports of pork and pork products containing residues of ractopamine. These measures pose a significant barrier to trade for U.S. pork products."

Biotechnology: "U.S. exports of biotech corn and soybeans, as well as other agricultural products that contain - or may contain - biotech-derived ingredients, continue to face a multitude of trade barriers. For example, some U.S. trading partners have continued to employ restrictive measures or impose bans on certain biotech products even though repeated risk assessments have shown no health or environmental safety concerns and these biotech products have proven safety records. The United States is actively engaged with trading partners in seeking to remove these unwarranted trade barriers, and more broadly, in efforts to share experiences related to biotechnology development, regulation, and trade."

As for specific countries, several issues relative to livestock trade were outlined for countries like China, Russia, Mexico and the European Union. In most cases, the report concluded that the issues outlined for the various countries were either ones that would be raised continually in negotiations with the offending country, were part of a WTO dispute settlement that was awaited or were resolved via bilateral negotiations.

As for the NTE report, agriculture gets a mention under several nations, but with the separate SPS report, there aren't nearly as much agricultural-related issues identified in that expansive.

The USTR assessment does criticize Canada for its practices on wheat that result in U.S. supplies primarily being sold in the country as "feed wheat" which means "sharp price discounts compared to Canadian varieties." The report, in no surprise, also repeated U.S. criticism of the Canadian Wheat Board, the state trading enterprise (STE) that markets Canadian wheat abroad.

Regarding China, the report listed several areas where China has restricted imports of U.S. products. On the issue of export subsidies, it reiterated what previous reports have noted -- the lack of transparency makes it difficult to determine the exact size and scope of these tools that make Chinese products more competitive on the world market. And, it doesn't mention corn at all.

Japan also came under fire for various trade-restricting policies, including mention of "high tariffs on a number of food products that are important exports for the United States, including red meat, citrus, wine,and a variety of processed foods."

The bottom line remains that U.S. agriculture faces a number of restrictions on the world trade front. But despite those barriers to trade, it's heartening that U.S. agriculture still remains one of the very few sectors in the entire U.S. economy that posts a trade surplus -- not a deficit.

Here's a link to access these and other reports from USTR.


 

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