Kirk Says U.S. Working With South Korea on Beef Ban

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk on Aug. 4 told members of the Senate Agriculture Committee that the United States continues to press South Korea to comply with World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) guidelines concerning U.S. beef imports.

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk on Aug. 4 told members of the Senate Agriculture Committee that the United States continues to press South Korea to comply with World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) guidelines concerning U.S. beef imports.

Kirk noted that full OIE compliance is the standard in the current draft of the Korea agreement, but U.S. cattlemen agreed in 2008 on a separate protocol with Korea to accept a standard of beef from cattle aged 30 months or less, which some contend provides risk control against mad cow disease, and restrictions remain on brains, skulls, eyes, and spinal cords.

"The good thing is that our beef exports to Korea are rising rapidly," Kirk said, adding they are up almost 50 percent over last year and the United States has almost a 40 percent market share.

Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), member of the panel and chairman of the Finance Committee, was not impressed. Baucus raised the possibility that the Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over the nation's tax and trade policies, might be reluctant to hold hearings on the pending U.S.-South Korea free trade agreement unless Korea first agrees to grant market access for "all ages, all cuts" of U.S. beef.

President Obama in June told Kirk to wrap up negotiations with Korea to resolve outstanding issues on the pending U.S.-Korea FTA prior to the Group of 20 meeting in November, after which the FTA would be presented to Congress if the problems are solved. The administration so far has stated that it only plans to deal with market access issues for U.S. autos and beef.

Responding to panel members' questions on other topics, Kirk said it is a good time to reconsider economic sanctions on Cuba , adding that Cuba represents an "extraordinary opportunity" for U.S. rice and grain farmers. Kirk also pointed out that any change in policy would require action by Congress.

When questioned about the progress on the WTO's Doha Round, Kirk agreed with committee ranking member Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) who called the current draft Doha Round text "unbalanced." Kirk said that while he was "less discouraged" about Doha , he agreed that the current text is "insufficient" and not one that he would bring to Congress.

Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) questioned why, when the Democratic party has control over the House and the Senate, the president has not asked Kirk to seek trade promotion authority from Congress.

Trade promotion authority, sometimes referred to as fast track, is legislation that gives the president the right to submit trade agreements to Congress for approval on an up or down vote without amendments. This authority expired in 2007 and was not renewed under the presidency of George W. Bush.

Kirk responded that both his office and Congress have been busy. He added that the administration believes that restoring the confidence of the U.S. public in the value of trade has taken time and effort that will pay off when seeking approval of the deals.

Administration Insists Russia Stop Delaying U.S. Chicken Trade

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk says the administration is adamant in its demands that Russia withdraw a last-minute barrier to U.S. chicken exports after both countries signed off on a deal to allow trade to resume after a seven-month Russian ban.

Russia's new demand to conduct lengthy audits of U.S. chicken processing plants before any U.S. shipments are allowed — something not provided for in the deal already signed by both countries — came as a complete surprise, Kirk said.

"To tell you we're frustrated would be an understatement," Kirk said. "We thought we reached an agreement. We had a protocol, signed it and literally now at the last minute ... there's a new wrinkle."

The audits Russia is seeking aren't part of the deal that President Obama announced June 24, according to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who said he is in talks with Russian officials to try to get Russia to back down and allow in U.S. chicken immediately.

Russia effectively banned U.S. chicken on Jan. 1 by prohibiting importation of poultry that is processed with chlorinated rinses, a sanitization method used by all major U.S. processors at the time. In the deal announced by Obama and later put into writing and signed by both governments, USDA agreed to certify that chicken sent to Russia would not go through the chlorinated rinses to which Russia objects.

The United States has complied with all the stipulations agreed to in the deal with Russia, Vilsack said, and if Russia does not do the same — if it continues to demand audits that were not part of the agreement — he will ask Obama to intervene personally.

It's not just chicken trade at risk with Russia 's last-minute delay, though, Vilsack and Kirk said Wednesday. U.S. support for Russia 's bid to become a member of the World Trade Organization also is at stake. "We want Russia in the WTO," Kirk said, but stressed, "It's issues like this on poultry that continue to frustrate us and makes us question their resolve to operate on a rules-based system."

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