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Published March 29, 2011, 09:49 AM

Farmers Union opposes trade agreement

WASHINGTON — National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson said March 16 that the organization’s decision to oppose the South Korea-U.S. free trade agreement primarily was based on the group’s longstanding views rather than the failure of the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative to send a speaker to its recent convention in San Antonio, but a USTR spokeswoman said that USTR regrets any confusion surrounding Farmers Union’s request for a speaker.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Special to Agweek

WASHINGTON — National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson said March 16 that the organization’s decision to oppose the South Korea-U.S. free trade agreement primarily was based on the group’s longstanding views rather than the failure of the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative to send a speaker to its recent convention in San Antonio, but a USTR spokeswoman said that USTR regrets any confusion surrounding Farmers Union’s request for a speaker.

In an interview with Agweek March 15, Johnson said that he was “was not surprised at what the delegates did on trade” after USTR declined to send a speaker to its convention to explain the merits of the proposed agreement with South Korea and other trade agreements.

Views on trade

NFU’s policy committee had proposed that the group break with its longstanding opposition to free trade agreements to support the U.S.-South Korea agreement because it created substantial market access for U.S. beef, but March 15, the convention passed a substitute motion that expressed opposition to the South Korea agreement and others.

“We were disappointed USTR and the ambassador’s office did not send a representative to help balance the panel on trade, (but) it was not the reason our delegates took the policy stance they did,” Johnson said in an e-mail March 16. “We have a long-standing policy that outlines the types of trade agreements the organization will support and the parameters that must be set.”

Trade office response

Meanwhile, Carol Guthrie, the assistant U.S. trade representative for public and media affairs, said in an e-mail March 16, “Certainly USTR works to be responsive to all stakeholders, including the members of NFU, and regrets any confusion surrounding the request for a USTR representative to speak at this important event.”

Guthrie added, “We continue to be excited to share the message that at a time when our farmers and ranchers exporting to Korea face an average tariff of 53.9 percent, this agreement will immediately eliminate duties on the majority of Korean imports of U.S. farm products including wheat, corn, soybeans for crushing, whey for feed use, hides and skins, cotton, cherries, pistachios, almonds, orange juice, grape juice and wine, and reduces duties on many others — including beef — over time. These tariff eliminations will open up many opportunities for America’s farmers and ranchers, which is why the agreement has garnered strong support from many members of our agricultural sector.”

Before her appointment at USTR, Guthrie was communications director for the Senate Finance Committee, which is chaired by Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont.

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