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Stokes: NCBA committed to free, fair trade
By Terry Stokes
Guest Opinion
During this holiday season, many of us will have the opportunity to treat family and friends to a terrific steak or prime rib dinner. What could be better than sitting down at your favorite steakhouse, for a delicious beef meal with all the trimmings? Tonight, imagine you’ve budgeted for just such an outing - including the tip and tax, of course.

But what if the check arrives, and the tax is 30, 40, or even 50 percent of the total bill? That would certainly put a damper on the evening. It might leave you scrambling to find an ATM, and it would undoubtedly make you less likely to come back.

As crazy as this might sound, it is exactly the scenario faced by many overseas consumers of U.S. beef. Tariffs grossly inflate the price of our beef in many international markets, and effectively keep it off the plate of millions of prospective customers. Tariffs are an especially big problem in nations where families must already commit a very high percentage of their income to purchasing food.

High tariffs are not an easy policy to overturn. In the isolationist mindset, high tariffs protect the domestic beef industry from competition.

They also put significant revenue in the coffers of foreign governments, which is another reason they are hard to eliminate. But what high tariffs really accomplish is to deny many consumers a product they could otherwise afford, and cheat U.S. producers out of an opportunity to compete on a fair and level playing field.

Dramatic reduction of the tariffs saddling U.S. beef exports is a top priority for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association in all of the work we do on international trade. Immediate elimination of tariffs on prime and choice cuts, as well as the phase-out of tariffs on all U.S. beef, were the key reasons that NCBA supported CAFTA so strongly. We consider these provisions to be a must for any bilateral or multilateral trade agreement negotiated by the United States.

Tariff reduction is also NCBA’s utmost priority as we approach the upcoming World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations in Hong Kong. NCBA strongly supports the U.S. proposal for WTO Agriculture Negotiations, which would drastically reduce the tariff burden on U.S. beef to a level ranging from 7.5 to 12 percent – much more tolerable than the current 30 to 57 percent. While achieving this target will be an uphill battle, we must stand firmly behind it if we are to grow overseas markets to their full potential.

Animal health regulations can also be a roadblock to growing international markets. Just recently, I was involved in meetings in Ottawa, Ontario, seeking to eliminate restrictions related to anaplasmosis and bluetongue that have limited the ability of U.S. cattlemen to sell feeder and breeding cattle into Canada. I am pleased with the progress we made and the support of Canadian cattlemen in getting the Canadian government to resolve this issue.

NCBA has made it clear, however, that we cannot support expansion of trade with Canada unless these issues are resolved. We value Canada as a trading partner and these issues have been a hindrance to U.S. producers for too long.

NCBA also continues to fight for improved access into the markets encompassed by the European Union, which have been largely closed to U.S. beef unless it can be certified as “hormone-free.” While thinly veiled as a consumer health measure, this type of restriction is really a protectionist policy designed to keep our superior product off the dinner plates of overseas customers.

Along with the Bush Administration, USDA, the U.S. Trade Representative, and key members of Congress, NCBA is working every day to restore access to markets that closed to U.S. beef almost two years ago due to BSE. We’ve got our product back into many of these countries, and we move ever closer to regaining access to all of our key markets. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that merely regaining access doesn’t always equate to a fair opportunity to compete. In addition to getting access restored, U.S. cattlemen cannot tolerate burdensome tariffs and other restrictions that are limiting the potential of many of these overseas markets.

This is why NCBA is committed to free and fair trade, and works tirelessly for global policies that create a fair opportunity for American cattlemen to export the safest and best-tasting beef in the world. Our members expect - and deserve - nothing less.

-Terry Stokes
Chief Executive Officer of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association

Published in the December 14, 2005 issue of Farm World.

12/13/2005