November 15, 2003
By Janet Mawhinney, Co-Chair, ASI Legislative Action Council
Nov. 2003 -- As U.S. senators and representatives finish work this fall for the first session of the 108th Congress, I am pleased to provide Sheep Industry News readers with an update regarding the American Sheep Industry Association?s (ASI) numerous legislative activities.
The U.S. House passed agriculture appropriations for this fiscal year. In addition, the Senate Appropriations Committee plans to consider in October an omnibus package in which agriculture and other appropriations bill could be included.
The $15 million appropriations for the National Scrapie Eradication Program is the No. 1 issue for the U.S. sheep industry, and is supported by both bodies. You will recall that the appropriations bill signed last February ratcheted the funding five-fold to the figure we are now supporting. Additionally, we have several hundred thousand for the National Sheep Industry Improvement Center and increased overall funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture?s (USDA) Wildlife Services program. The U.S. House version contains language supported by Chairman Henry Bonilla (R-TX), and encourages USDA to extend the retained ewe-lamb program for an additional year. Representative Bonilla?s bill also should be recognized for language that would require USDA to provide a report on quality grading of imported lamb carcasses, another top ASI priority.
The Country of Origin Labeling program is also expected to garner attention in this year?s appropriations bills, with a moratorium in the House for one year on implementation. Our discussions with U.S. senate leaders indicate the moratorium is not supported in the Senate.
The proposed Free Trade Agreement of Australia with the United States will receive more attention now that World Trade Organization negotiations slowed considerably at the Cancun meeting. (Featured on this page is ASI?s position on the matter as was sent to Administration officials and Congressional members.)
Minor Use/Minor Species legislation is another important issue, and one that was pushed hard by members of the ASI Legislative Council during their annual trip to Washington, D.C. in May. This bill continues to work its way through the process to streamline the label approval for smaller industries.
We had a great turnout for the aforementioned trip with representatives from 14 states traveling to our nation?s capital to work on key sheep issue with U.S. government officials. I can relay that all states are encouraged to have delegates participate in this trip and help volunteer producer leaders carry their message to Capitol Hill. In addition, the American Lamb BBQ was once again a success.
A terrific success story this year for the Legislative Council is the $8 million in funding that USDA secured in September for full payment of all eligible Lamb Meat Adjustment Assistance Program applications through July 31. The Council has prided itself in carrying the policies approved by the ASI board to the federal decision-makers for action and this is a great example.
Regarding the retained ewe-lamb program extension, sheep producers have carried their request to the top levels of government. With great assistance from U.S. senators and representatives and a solid relationship with USDA officials, we hope our request for the extension will become reality.
July 14, 2003
The Honorable Robert Zoellick
U.S. Trade Representative
600 17th Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20508
Dear Ambassador Zoellick:
As the national trade organization representing the U.S. sheep industry, the American Sheep Industry Association (ASI) is finalizing policy on the proposed United States-Australia Free Trade Agreement (FTA).
Lamb is already freely traded between the two countries, and with maintenance of adequate sanitary and phyto-sanitary requirements for live sheep and meat, we do not anticipate issues with the proposed agreement regarding lamb. That said, the open access for imported lamb into the U.S. market has resulted in a flood of product and price underselling that continues today. The United States is the largest market in the world for Australian lamb, and the domestic lamb industry is dealing with a number of substantial changes in competition that have occurred in the last ten years.
Additionally, we have yet to identify any benefits for U.S. sheep producers regarding changes to access or tariff treatment of our products to Australia. Obviously, export of U.S. sheep products to Australia -- the largest producer in the world, yet with a comparatively small consumer base -- is unlikely to yield substantial benefit.
Due to the lack of benefits and the immensity of issues that continue to be addressed in the lamb business due to imports, trade in wool has become the lynchpin issue in determining our policy regarding the proposed agreement with Australia. (Wool trade is referenced as the products in the agricultural trade section of the harmonized code.)
Today, neither quotas nor tariff-rate quotas regarding wool trade between Australia and the United States exist. However, there is in place a tariff that impacts prices paid to U.S. growers for the domestic clip. Albeit small percentage-wise, the tariffs impact the pricing of the U.S. wool clip because buyers typically base the U.S. market bids on cost of similar Australian wool landed on the East Coast. (The Australian wool industry dominates the world wool trade with prices based on the Australian Wool Indicator.) In fact, a reduction in the small tariffs would mean a reduction in prices paid to U.S. wool growers.
The decline in Australian wool trade to the U.S. is a factor of the decimation of the U.S. wool textile business rather than existing U.S. tariffs. The majority of imported wool is in the form of wool apparel and textile goods vs. grease, scoured or carded wool.
We therefore request that the Administration hold the present wool tariffs off the table in the negotiations, thereby allowing our association to avoid opposing the FTA with Australia. We look forward to the Administration?s response regarding maintenance of our wool provisions as soon as possible.
C: Senate Committee on Finance;
House Committee on Ways and Means