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NCBA urges administration to uphold fair and science-based trade policies

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association joined with a coalition of more than 50 national agriculture and business groups to urge President Obama to support open markets and level playing fields for international trade by upholding U.S. obligations under World Trade Organization agreements. In a May 1 letter, the coalition expressed opposition to a provision (Section 727) in the 2009 Appropriations Act that effectively bans imports of some Chinese chicken products, without allowing the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service to conduct a necessary and appropriate risk assessment on whether these imports pose any risk to American consumers. Because the provision specifically targets imports from only one country, it conflicts with the U.S. obligation to treat trading partners equally, and has prompted China to request a WTO consultation.

"Trade supports millions of U.S. jobs," said Jill Davidsaver, NCBA manager of legislative affairs. "This trade-distorting appropriations language sets a bad example for our international trading partners; if the U.S. doesn't hold itself accountable to the highest standards of fair and science-based trade, how can we expect other countries to do the same?"

China is the only market completely closed to U.S. beef exports, and represents one of the largest potential growth markets for U.S. beef--worth in excess of $100 billion. The chicken dispute is likely to impede ongoing efforts to open up China to U.S. beef.

With 1.3 billion consumers, rising income levels, and rapid urbanization, growth in China's per capita beef consumption outpaced all major beef-consuming countries during the last decade (USITC Publication 4033, September 2008). In addition, China demonstrates a niche demand for certain beef cuts, such as offal, that are underutilized in the U.S. and can be marketed in China as premium products. China officially banned U.S. beef and variety cuts after the discovery of a single case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy in the U.S. cattle herd in December 2003. Prior to the ban, the U.S. was China's leading foreign beef supplier by value and China was the 10th largest U.S. beef export market.

The following is an excerpt from the coalition letter to President Obama:

"We agree that the U.S. Government must effectively regulate the safety and quality of food products sold in this country. However, to maintain the effectiveness and integrity of the food safety system, such regulations must be based on sound science and an appropriate risk assessment. Laws and regulations must also be crafted such that the U.S. does not ignore its international trade obligations--obligations that the U.S. Government has helped to develop and, in particular, to prevent other countries from adopting protectionist, non-science based measures against U.S. food and agriculture exports under the guise of food safety. At a time when U.S. producers are seeking to sell their goods and services abroad during a difficult global economic crisis, it is vital that we uphold our trade obligations, lest we find access to vital overseas markets cut off to American products.

"If there are concerns about the safety of cooked chicken imports from China--and we should note that this includes poultry that originates in the U.S.--they should be addressed through sound science in the regulatory channels, not through ad hoc legislation or appropriations bills. Section 727, however, precludes scientific analysis from being conducted, therefore adversely affecting U.S. credibility and potentially hindering U.S. market access overseas.

"If the U.S. cannot uphold the basic rules of international trade, our trading partners may take similar actions against U.S. exports, which will ultimately harm American workers, farmers, businesses and the U.S. economy as a whole."

NCBA is continuing to work to create open markets and level playing fields for U.S. trade by expanding market access for U.S. beef and ensuring science-based standards for international trade. NCBA is also working to expedite the passage of pending Free Trade Agreements with Korea, Colombia, and Panama which could save U.S. exporters millions of dollars each year in unnecessary tariffs.

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