Farm Progress

Obama Administration has a strong track record of trying to level the playing field with world trading partners.

Jacqui Fatka, Policy editor

December 23, 2016

4 Min Read

Outgoing president Barack Obama may not get the highest praise from farmers, but his trade cohorts have done a substantial job of stepping up to defend U.S. agriculture on the world stage. 

Since President Obama was inaugurated in 2009, the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) has filed 24 enforcement complaints at the World Trade Organization (WTO) – more than any other WTO Member. The United States has won every single one of those complaints that has been announced by the WTO so far – 14 wins, plus another 6 complaints resolved favorably.

Thursday the USTR announced two more positive developments in the effort to level the playing field for U.S. farmers and ranchers. The first is a win in an ongoing dispute with Indonesia regarding their trade restrictions on horticultural products, animals and animal products.

“America’s farmers and ranchers depend on our nation’s leaders to hold our trading partners accountable, and Farm Bureau is grateful for the administration’s work to defend U.S. agriculture’s interests abroad. Enforcement of trade agreements is crucial to maintaining market access. Thanks to this victory, American farmers and ranchers will have the freedom to reach customers in one of the world’s most populous countries,” said a statement by the American Farm Bureau Federation regarding the Indonesia announcement.

Also Thursday, USTR said it would begin the process of holding the European Union accountable for its actions in beef trade. USTR announced that it is initiating the process of reinstating industry-supported tariffs on $116.8 million of exports from the EU to the United States. This action was taken in response to a request from the U.S. beef industry and is the latest installment in a long-running dispute between the U.S. and the EU over beef production practices.

Even though the World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled against the EU in two separate decisions, it has not been possible to find a lasting settlement to this dispute. In 2009, the EU agreed to compensate the United States by creating a duty-free quota for specially-produced beef. The United States once supplied most of the beef imported under the quota, but over the past three years U.S. beef has accounted for a minority and declining share of these imports.

Meat groups quickly praised the move, saying it was time for the EU to live up to its agreement after falling short of industry expectations.

“Over the past seven years, U.S. cattlemen and meat packers have made significant investments to meet the requirements of the EU market, only to see the U.S. share of the market undermined by producers in Australia, Uruguay and Argentina. This situation is unsustainable and demands a firm and decisive response,” said U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) president and CEO Philip Seng.

The Obama Administration has now brought 15 trade enforcement challenges against China, three against India and several other complaints against a series of major economics including Argentina, the Philippines and the European Union.

USTR said the Obama Administration has also broken new ground on the enforcement of agricultural market access including challenges to China’s non-transparent and unpredictable administration of tariff-rate quotas, China’s excessive domestic support for production of certain grains, India’s non-science-based measures on poultry and other products allegedly to protect against avian influenza (U.S. prevailed in 2015), and China’s unfair taxes on U.S. broiler chicken products (U.S. prevailed in 2014; compliance challenge pending).

Last week the USTR launched the trade enforcement action on China’s administration of tariff-rate quotas for rice, wheat and corn. This follows up on an action taken earlier this year challenging the subsidies provided to support these industries.

And the United States has also taken tough stands to resolve unwarranted trade barriers with trading partners. USTR touted it has eliminated restrictions in 17 countries since January 2015, gaining additional market access for U.S. beef in Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Egypt, Guatemala, Iraq, Lebanon, Macau, New Zealand, Peru, Philippines, Saint Lucia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, Ukraine, and Vietnam. As a result, U.S. beef exports have doubled.

President-elect Donald Trump has a much different view on trade, but it seems he will carry on the torch of forcing others to play by the rules. However, it may be the Commerce Department, not USTR to take on a greater role with enforcement and trade policy.

Politico reported that Trump has been focusing a considerable amount of time on filling the USTR position, possibly ahead of the agriculture secretary cabinet position. Veteran trade attorney Robert Lighthizer met with Trump on Monday. He served as deputy U.S. Trade Representative in charge of industry, agriculture, investment and trade policy during the Reagan administration.

U.S. Trade Representative, an agency with roughly 250 employees, has five officials handling its transition. Meanwhile, the Department of Agriculture has just one person handling the transition for the over 10,000 employees. 

About the Author(s)

Jacqui Fatka

Policy editor, Farm Futures

Jacqui Fatka grew up on a diversified livestock and grain farm in southwest Iowa and graduated from Iowa State University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications, with a minor in agriculture education, in 2003. She’s been writing for agricultural audiences ever since. In college, she interned with Wallaces Farmer and cultivated her love of ag policy during an internship with the Iowa Pork Producers Association, working in Sen. Chuck Grassley’s Capitol Hill press office. In 2003, she started full time for Farm Progress companies’ state and regional publications as the e-content editor, and became Farm Futures’ policy editor in 2004. A few years later, she began covering grain and biofuels markets for the weekly newspaper Feedstuffs. As the current policy editor for Farm Progress, she covers the ongoing developments in ag policy, trade, regulations and court rulings. Fatka also serves as the interim executive secretary-treasurer for the North American Agricultural Journalists. She lives on a small acreage in central Ohio with her husband and three children.

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