U.S. trade representatives are working to improve access to foreign markets for American agricultural products, and open new markets. And while beef producers have enjoyed great success with Pacific Rim countries, dealing with the European Union continues to be a frustration.

The U.S. presented a proposal at the World Trade Organization (WTO) agricultural negotiations in Geneva that is designed to open foreign markets for U.S. agricultural exports.

"Improving market access opportunities for American farmers and ranchers is a top priority in the WTO," says U.S. trade representative Charlene Barshefsky. "WTO members need to bring down high tariffs on agricultural products and reduce the disparities across countries. TRQs (tariff rate quotas) can provide access opportunities while we phase in tariff reductions, and today we are proposing that WTO negotiations result in expanded market access opportunities and protection against unjustifiably burdensome requirements on importers and exporters."

The U.S. TRQ proposal calls for the following:

  • Develop additional disciplines for TRQs that ensure importers do not administer TRQs to bar trade.
  • Reduce in-quota duties based on the historical performance of the quantity of product imported at the lower in-quota tariff; the lower the fill rate the deeper the cut.
  • Cut tariffs using an approach that reduces disparities across countries and progressively increases TRQ quantities.
  • Establishing trigger mechanisms to lower in-quota duties when TRQ is slow to fill.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman said "When trade is free and fair, American farmers and ranchers compete and win. This proposal will help ensure fair market access and thus could create new or expanded opportunities for U.S. farmers who export corn, rice, wheat, dairy products, poultry, pork and other farm products."

Secretary Glickman didn't mention beef exports specifically, but ranchers are certainly concerned about obtaining access to foreign markets, especially the European Union (EU), where U.S. beef remains banned after more than a decade.

Last month the EU asked the WTO for authorizations to impose approximately $4 billion in trade sanctions against the U.S. The WTO had ruled U.S. Foreign Sales Corporations (FSCs) were an illegal subsidy for U.S. exporters, but President Clinton signed legislation to bring them into line with international trade rules. The EU, however, contends the new law still violates the rules.

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association says U.S. agriculture faces a disproportionate burden and risk in this case. The trade dispute could have a major impact on exports of U.S. ag products and commodities to Europe and adds another obstacle to efforts to lift the EU ban on U.S. beef.

Both the House and the Senate have approved legislation that would bring the Foreign Sales Corporations in line with international trade policy. The new legislation will be submitted to the WTO for review.