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Published February 22, 2011, 09:11 AM

Montana’s Baucus calls for more access on US beef

WASHINGTON — Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., exchanged words Feb. 17 over the proposed South Korea-U.S. free trade agreement.

By: Special to Agweek, Special to Agweek

WASHINGTON — Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., exchanged words Feb. 17 over the proposed South Korea-U.S. free trade agreement.

At a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing on the farm economy, Baucus repeated previous statements that he would not support the agreement if South Korea does not ease access for U.S. beef.

After mad cow disease was discovered in the United States in a single Canadian-born cow in 2003, Korea banned U.S. beef and now takes only meat from younger animals.

“I won’t support (the South Korea agreement) unless we get some access on beef,” Baucus said. “Something that passes the smell test.”

He noted that he otherwise supports the agreement.

The Obama administration has said it plans to forward the South Korea-U.S. agreement to Congress, and Vilsack told Baucus that “an all-or-nothing position makes it extremely difficult to make progress.”

“I’m not asking for all,” Baucus said. “I’m just asking for something more than currently exists.”

Trade momentum

Vilsack also said that he considers the South Korea-U.S. agreement to be “the linchpin” to address other trade issues, and that completing the South Korea agreement “will create momentum.” China and Japan are more likely to open up their beef markets, and congressional approval of the South Korea-U.S. agreement could pave the way for the administration to send the agreements with Colombia and Panama forward, he said.

Vilsack said the United States only is“five to 10 offals” from getting better access for American beef.

He explained that China wants to limits the number of offals — the entrails and organs of butchered animals — to five, but that the United States wants the agreement to include up to 10 types of offals.

Other trade talks

Baucus said the United States is losing farm market share in Colombia, while Canada is about to enter into a free trade agreement with that South American country.

Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., told Vilsack he is upset that Japan, which also has restricted U.S. beef exports, will not accept beef from older animals.

“These folks are impossible,” Johanns said, adding that he did not blame Vilsack because he faced the same problem as agriculture secretary during the Bush administration.

“It’s very frustrating,” Vilsack replied, “We are moving to a place where I think we can get to ‘yes.’ ”

“I would have said exactly what you said six years ago,” Johanns said, adding that he thought Ann Veneman, Vilsack’s predecessor as Agriculture Secretary, would have said the same thing.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, told Vilsack he is upset by barriers India has erected to U.S. agricultural products.

Vilsack agreed, saying, “I can’t use the kind of language I’d like to use” to describe the frustration with India.

The hearing was the first one chaired by Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and before the hearing, the committee formally constituted itself and passed its rules for the 112th Congress.

Stabenow noted that American agriculture is supporting 16 million jobs and is one of few industries leading the economic recovery.

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