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The U.S.: Home of the trade weenies
Trade started out to be a simple affair. When one caveman walked to the next cave to swap some brontosaurus steaks for a bearskin rug, trade was born. Through the centuries, nations learned that trade could be profitable and aid in the spread of ideas and technology. Then the New World was discovered.

When Spain came to South America, their trade policy was: you give me your gold and I will give you smallpox. Meanwhile in North America, the English, and later the Americans, told the Indians: give us your land and then we will shoot you. Our trade policy has changed a great deal since then, today we are free traders. I am a firm believer in free trade, especially when it comes to agricultural trade policy, but I also strongly believe that free trade should be fair trade. The current trade policy, as practiced by the Bush administration, is not fair trade. For the past two years, Japan and Korea have blocked the importation of U.S. beef for absolutely no good reason.

At the same time, Japan and Korea have exported and sold millions of automobiles in the U.S.

Despite intense political and diplomatic pressure, Japan and Korea continue to refuse to lift their ban on U.S. beef. Last week both nations again delayed a decision on lifting the ban. It is time for the White House to stop acting like trade weenies and get tough on trade.

Trade sanctions, trade barriers, trade quotas, and trade wars are not good things, and in the long term they can be counterproductive but so can sitting on your hands and doing nothing while someone picks your pockets. Congress, in a rare move, recently developed a backbone and passed a resolution calling for trade retaliation against Japan if beef imports did not resume. The reaction by Tokyo has been: yah, yah, we have heard it all before. Perhaps some action is now required to make our point.

This all started with one lone cow (imported from Canada) in Washington State who had BSE. Two years later, Asia is still claiming we have a BSE problem. Park Hyun-chul, head of the Korean Livestock ministry, said the BSE problem in the US had not been “scientifically defined.”

Something must have been lost in the translation because I have no idea what that was supposed to mean. What he really meant to say was: we are running out of excuses not to import your beef.

General Motors is on the verge of bankruptcy, and thousands of US jobs are on the line. Meanwhile, some of GMs biggest competitors enjoy free access to the US market while their nations refuse to give US beef producers the same access. It is time, Mr. Bush, to get as tough on trade as you are on terrorism.

There is lots of talk about how the U.S. will have to reduce our farm subsidies and eliminate trade barriers and quotas to give other nations of the world better access to our market. If we are going to do that, then we had better make sure those other nations reciprocate.

Oh, and, Mr. Bush, while you are rattling the trade saber at Asia, you may want to try it on the French. You know, the nation that pours millions of gallons of high priced wine into the U.S. but refuses to allow our biotech crops or beef into their country.

Published in the December 7, 2005 issue of Farm World.