U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk spoke to U.S. Meat Export Federation members at the organization's annual meeting, emphasizing 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 that trading partners must honor their commitments and grant fair and consistent market access to U.S. products.

“Our goal at USTR is pretty simple, and that’s to continue to give you greater access to more international markets for America’s high-quality beef and pork,” Kirk told USMER. “We believe that one of the best ways that we can do that is by stronger enforcement of existing rules.”

Kirk was especially critical of trade suspensions recently imposed on U.S. pork -– and, in some cases, beef -– due to Type 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 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. 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.

He cited the 2003 BSE scare as an example. "Everybody said, ‘Oh, don’t worry. In six months it will all be over and we’ll be back to normal,'" he said. "Well as you all know, six years later here we still are with a lot of our beef frozen out of important markets.".

Kirk said his previous experience as Dallas' mayor 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.

He pointed out that 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 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.”

“I feel this man is truly in our corner, trying to help make U.S. agriculture profitable and help us be able to feed people across the world,” said Ketih Miller, USMEF vice chairman and a farmer-stockman from Great Bend, Kan.

USMEF members also heard from newly-appointed Foreign Agricultural Service Administrator Michael Michener, who was raised on an Iowa farm and served in three different foreign affairs agencies. “Over the years, FAS has developed a solid partnership with USMEF – a partnership with a common objective of expanding export markets for U.S. beef, pork and lamb industries,” he said. “Your organization serves as a vital link between decision makers here in Washington and producers and exporters throughout the nation.”  

USMEF 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 United States 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.

Source: U.S. Meat Export Federation