While foreign policy issues in recent weeks have centered
strictly on the war effort, officials at the National Cattlemen's
Beef Association hope lawmakers won't neglect another facet of
foreign policy: trade.
Lynn Cornwell, president of the National Cattlemen's Beef
Association, said the organization would actively lobby Congress
seeking trade promotion authority for President Bush.
"We think it's a tool we desperately need," Cornwell said. "It's
kind of like arming your leadership with the ability to negotiate
Trade promotion authority would allow the president to negotiate
deals with foreign countries and submit the treaty to Congress for a
straight, up-or-down vote without amendment. Presidents have
traditionally had that authority but it was allowed to lapse during
the Clinton administration.
Without trade promotion authority "there's just a lot of things
that we get shut out of that if we were able to negotiate we could
do it," Cornwell said.
For example, he noted that the current trade system allows
countries such as Australia to easily undercut the United States and
sell beef to countries like Taiwan.
"They used our trading level floor price and our tariff quota
rates with Taiwan as a benchmark, and then they just waited for us
to peg our price and then they went in and undercut our price,"
While those trade battles may occur thousands of miles away, the
cost to ranchers in Oklahomans is steep. Cornwell noted that 17
percent of the U.S. beef sold last year (by value) was exported to
other countries. If new markets are opened through presidential
trade promotion authority, he said American beef producers could see
increases of $8 to $10 per hundred weight for a 500-pound steer.
"So far we've been locked out of that," he said.
In addition to Taiwan, the European Union ("We think there's some
opportunity there -- big time.") and the Pacific Rim countries are
potential markets that could quickly be tapped if the president has
trade promotion authority, Cornwell said.
Mexico, which is currently the second-largest importer of
American beef, could also be a major market. In 1975, there were 57
million natives in Mexico; today, there are 102 million and the
standard of living in the country is growing and resistance to trade
is declining thanks to the new presidential administration in the
Cornwell said the National Cattlemen's Beef Association also
supports Bush's proposal to allow many of the estimated 3.5 million
Mexicans in the United States to become legal citizens.
"We think that's good. We in agriculture think it's about time,"
Cornwell said. "Agriculture in this country would shut down without
that work force. They're good people and they work hard, they eat
beef, they go to church and they're good citizens. And we just think
Even as the organization seeks increased trade, it will also seek
the creation of a "country of origin" labeling law for food products
sold in the United States.
Cornwell predicted that the issue would come to a vote and pass
Congress this year. The House has already passed (by 292-121) a
provision requiring mandatory country-of-origin labeling on fruits
and vegetables, and a bill stands ready in the Senate requiring
mandatory labeling on all food products.
Cornwell said much of the debate would center on enforcement
provisions and their cost, as well as the definition of "American"
products. The definition supported by the cattlemen's association
would not allow animals brought into this country for immediate
slaughter to be given a U.S. label. However, the association
supports allowing USDA quality grading to be applied to foreign-
raised beef products.
On the domestic front, the cattlemen's association has launched a
campaign supporting revision of the federal Endangered Species Act
to "put some science back" into the legislation, Cornwell said. …