Allen Johnson, chief agriculture negotiator for the United States, was the keynote speaker at a forum on agricultural trade issues vital to the U.S. pork industry at World Pork Expo in Des Moines, Iowa. Other participants included Sen. Tom Harkin and Congressman Tom Latham.

Country-or-origin labeling became a focal point of the discussion as producers attending the roundtable expressed their concerns about the law. Harkin defended his position that COOL would benefit producers by adding value to their hogs and said he would continue to fight for the implementation of COOL. Latham said it might be time to take another look at COOL and possibly look into a voluntary system, rather than a mandatory system. Latham pointed out that if COOL really provided significant added value to producers, there would already be some producers implementing a labeling system. Johnson avoided comment on COOL saying that USTR’s job is to negotiate agreements, enforce agreements and defend the U.S. position, not to make the policies that enforce that position. He did say some countries have raised questions about COOL.

The trade situation in Mexico, which included both the current antidumping case on U.S. pork, and the recently-resolved antidumping case on U.S. hogs. Ambassador Johnson said the United States has had some problems with Mexico lately, but points out great strides have been made since the North American Free Trade Agreement went into effect. Johnson said he did not think Mexico’s policy was justified and did not think they would keep it up. He also stressed that neither country wanted to lose mutual gains from NAFTA and plans to focus on that rather than causing friction.

The next round of World Trade Organization in Cancun in September also was discussed. Johnson said in the Doha round the United States led with an ambitious proposal to eliminate any subsidies and to reduce tariffs substantially, and it would be interesting to see the European Union’s actions leading up to the Cancun round. Harking added that he sees the Cancun round as a ‘make or break’ event, and that tariffs cannot be left in place.

The Chilean Free Trade Agreement was pointed to as a big success. It may not become the biggest market for pork exports, but the agreement is significant because it eliminates both tariffs and sanitary and phytosanitary limitations. Johnson said the agreement should be in front of Congress soon.