Opinion by Chuck KikerWritten by Chuck Kiker
By Chuck Kiker, U.S. Cattlemen’s Association Board member
Today’s ranching community has a number of concerns headed our way. From a stalled Farm Bill in Congress, increased feed and fuel prices, increased oversight from the EPA, the list goes on; one thing we don’t need added to this list is an outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease in the U.S. or unfair trading practices from exporting countries. The recent actions taken by Argentina could amount to just that.
Ranchers like me have been targeted for years by Argentine special interests hoping to carve out a part of the U.S. beef market despite the country’s problems with Foot and Mouth disease (FMD) and inadequate testing and monitoring capabilities.
For those not familiar with FMD, it is an airborne disease that if brought to the U.S. would decimate our country’s beef industry. If this disease infects the U.S. herd, it could inflict billions in damage to one of America’s lone economic bright spots - rural America. That’s why lawmakers and Administration officials stood strong against Argentine lobbying pressure and blocked their attempts to ship potentially contaminated product into America.
Now, Argentina has taken their case to the World Trade Organization (WTO) and is asking officials in far away countries to jeopardize the U.S. economy by forcing us to grant market access. And it’s not the first time Argentina has sought WTO assistance in harming U.S. farmers and ranchers.
They are currently asking the international trade body to give them part of the U.S. lemon market, too, which was also sealed off because of disease concerns. Years ago, Argentina teamed with Brazil in WTO courts to target policies important to U.S. cotton farmers. Threats have been made against other farm policies. And alongside Brazil and India, Argentina has helped derail international trade negotiations that could further open global markets to U.S. farm and ranch products.
Unfortunately, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Argentine bad acts against rural America.
When Argentina declared the largest debt default in the history of the world earlier this decade, U.S. businesses and taxpayers stepped up and gave the country billions to survive economic collapse. But Argentina refuses to pay America back despite no fewer than 88 U.S. court judgments to do so. This has limited available capital in America when we need it the most and has even harmed retirement funds that lost money in the deal.
What’s worse, Argentina used some of this borrowed income on agricultural infrastructure improvements that, when combined with the country’s massive currency deflation, gave Argentinians an advantage in global markets.
John VanSickle, an agricultural economist from the University of Florida, found in 2009 that these acts helped Argentine farm exports increase by nearly $9 billion from 2000 to 2007.
When the dust settles from November’s elections, U.S. officials need to take a hard stand against Argentina. All legislative, administrative and diplomatic channels should be used to protect U.S. jobs, keep our food system free of foreign disease, and force the country to repay their debts.
Chuck Kiker is a Texas cattleman who sits on the board of the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association.