U.S. agricultural exports have played a starring role in President Obama’s National Export Initiative, says Ambassador Isi Siddiqui, the chief agriculture trade negotiator in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR). Our agricultural exports, he says, have grown by about 40 percent over the past two years, compared with about 35 percent for non-ag exports.
Ambassador Siddiqui discussed agricultural trade with journalists following a White House Business Council Agriculture Roundtable discussion that the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) hosted a at its Denver headquarters this week. Ambassador Siddiqui met with more than a dozen leaders from state and national agricultural organizations to discuss the National Export Initiative and other critical ag trade issues. Later in the day, he toured the Spruce Mountain Ranch cattle operation near Larkspur, Colo.
Siddiqui said the meeting provided an opportunity to update agricultural leaders on the administration’s efforts in promoting agricultural exports and to listen to stakeholders to learn about problems or issues for trade officials to address.
Asked about the contribution of agricultural exports to the National Export Initiative, Siddiqui noted that 2011 ag exports reached a record value of $140 billion. Beef and Pork exports set value records at $5 billion and $6 billion respectively during 2011, which Siddiqui says results from growing international demand and the USTR’s ability to remove a number of trade barriers. He specifically mentioned the free-trade agreement with South Korea, which Obama signed in October 2011 and which took effect on March 15. The agreement, he says, immediately reduces Korean tariffs on two-thirds of our agricultural export products to zero. The other one-third of export products will see a gradual reduction of tariffs over the next 15 years, eventually ending at zero. Formerly, the average tariff on U.S. exports to South Korea was 53 percent. USTR employees, he adds, continue to work with their counterparts in Columbia and Panama to finalize ratification of trade agreements reached with those countries.
The USTR also keeps pushing for full market access in cases where trade is limited, such as beef exports to Japan, and in countries where trade barriers prevent imports of U.S. products altogether.
Siddiqui says the Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership negotiations are a top priority for the administration during 2012. In addition to the United States, these negotiations involve eight countries in the Asian-Pacific regions, all with double-digit growth in gross domestic product, with a goal of improving trade access. Currently, these countries, which include Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam, import about $5 billion in U.S. agricultural products. Once these negotiations are completed, probably by the end of this year, Siddiqui says projections for U.S. ag exports to those countries should increase.