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Weekly Column - Japan's Beefed Up Imports a Welcome Sign for Nebraska Producers


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Last week's decision by Japan to amend a nine-year restriction on certain beef imports is a promising sign for Nebraska beef producers.

Beginning this month, the Japanese will be able to import high quality American beef from animals aged 30 months old or younger. Japan halted its U.S. beef imports in 2003, when a single case of BSE was detected in the United States. In 2005, Japan resumed limited imports, only allowing beef from animals 20 months old or younger. Lifting these restrictions opens opportunities for Japan's import of more safe, quality U.S. beef, and is a move toward science-based trade standards. I look forward to a day when all animal age limits are lifted from U.S. beef universally, consistent with international standards. Until then, I applaud this step forward.

This change could mean millions of dollars in new exports for Nebraska, where every dollar in ag exports generates $1.31 in economic activity. Ag exports totaling more than $5 billion per year translate into $7 billion for the state, and more than 19,000 jobs. The United States boasts some of the world's highest quality, corn-fed beef. In fact, we make up approximately 18 percent of the value of the global beef market. Nebraska leads the nation in red meat production and beef processing, so a greater beef market with Japan is especially good news for Nebraska's economy. But more can and should be done to strengthen our nation's trade with its global neighbors.

Improved trade relations benefit more than just our farmers and ranchers. They offer opportunities for nearly all U.S. producers and manufacturers, as well as industries such as transportation and finance. In 2012, the United States worked to implement trade agreements with Colombia, Korea and Panama. These steps have resulted in new and expanded markets for machinery, irrigation equipment, feed grains and meat exports.

Unfortunately, the Administration dragged their feet for years before submitting the three most recent trade agreements to Congress for approval. The delays in action resulted in delays in job creation and lost opportunities for American agriculture. For example, when the Colombia-U.S. agreement was signed, American wheat farmers supplied 70 percent of the Colombian market. Four years later, when the Administration finally sought Congressional approval on the deal, U.S. growers supplied only 45 percent of the Colombian wheat market. U.S. producers are now working to build back the lost market share. Granting the Administration trade promotion authority is critical to the negotiation of new agreements and markets, such as the pending Trans Pacific Partnership. This is something that the Administration has not even bothered to request despite being urged to do so, but I will continue to press for it. Expanding trade is a home run for our economy.

The United States has a storied tradition of manufacturing quality goods and producing a safe and abundant food supply. I am confident Nebraska farmers, businesses and workers can compete with anyone in the world if given a level playing field. As we continue working to find solutions to the current fiscal crisis, strengthening and growing our trade relations should be a significant part of the conversation to boost our economy at home. A more open and fair market is in the best interest of our country and our global partners.

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