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Johanns on importance of trade

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Feb 14, 2005
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Southern SD
Johanns Addresses NCBA Members on Importance of Trade
Ag Secretary Commends Cattlemen for "Looking to the Horizon"
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns addressed members of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) this morning, focusing most of his remarks on the importance of expanding exports and international trade. About 300 NCBA members are in Washington, D.C., for the Cattle Industry Spring Conference on Capitol Hill.

Johanns praised NCBA members for their support of aggressive international trade policies, even in the face of criticism from others in the industry.

"You have truly led the way," Johanns said. "You probably take an arrow in your back from time to time - but you are looking to the horizon, and building a future for your industry."

Johanns cited estimates that 27 percent of U.S. agricultural income results from exports. With 96 percent of the world's population residing outside of the United States, he said that exports are no longer a luxury, but rather an absolutely essential element of producer profitability.

"If you operated a business and I told you I wanted to implement policies that would jeopardize 27 percent of your gross receipts, you would probably want to run me out of town - and maybe even out of the country," he said.

During a question and answer session with NCBA members, Utah Cattlemen's Association President Monty Weston of Randolph, Utah, thanked Johanns for his commitment to international trade. Weston urged Johanns to re-open the Canadian border to live cattle as quickly as possible, to help ensure competition in the packing industry and availability of processing for all cattle producers.

"We've got a packing plant in Hyrum, Utah, that had to cut back to three days per week, and we're afraid that it might close completely," Weston said.

Johanns then asked Weston what the alternative destination would be for his cattle, if the Utah plant was forced to close.

"Our only option would be to send them back East," Weston replied. "The closest plant might be Greeley, Colo. That's a pretty big freight bill."

Johanns said Weston's example clearly illustrates the damaging impact that can result when groups try to obstruct international trade.

He was also asked how soon producers could expect to see key exports markets re-open, such as Japan and South Korea.

"I hope to get back to normalization with all of our key trading partners by year's end. Unfortunately, we are tied up in litigation by those who simply do not support trade," Johanns said. "But I'm not letting up - I'm not going away. I am going to remain absolutely focused on this effort to normalize trade and re-open export markets for U.S. beef."

Johanns also thanked NCBA members for their support of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), which faces a Congressional vote later this year. He said that U.S. producers frequently ask him for help in leveling the playing field on trade, so they can better compete in the global marketplace. He said CAFTA does just that, by eliminating prohibitive tariffs that prevent U.S. products from reaching CAFTA nations. Meanwhile, most imports from these countries face no tariffs whatsoever.

Besides achieving greater exports of U.S. beef to CAFTA nations, Johanns said U.S. actions on CAFTA also set a tone for trade with all global partners.

"If we walk away and don't get CAFTA passed, the consequences will be disastrous," he said. "That will do irreparable harm to other negotiations. Who will want to negotiate in good faith with us, if we turn our back on CAFTA?"

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