Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Congressmen: To Russia, with l ... actose

This may be a bit of lobbying that will end up benefiting New York State, even though it is not an undertaking by any elected representatives from the nation's third-ranking dairy producer.

A pair of Democrat congressmen from the Midwest dairy belt -- Ron Kind of Wisconsin, chair of the New Democrat Coalition and member of the House Ways and Means Committee, and Tim Walz of Minnesota, member of the House Agriculture Committee -- have sent a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Ron Kirk and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, urging them to make full use of all of the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) tools to address issues that have continued to prohibit U.S. dairy exports from having fair access to the immense Russian market.

Late last week, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 6156 -- "The Russia and Moldova Jackson-Vanik Repeal and Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012." It would establish normal trade relations with Russia and give the U.S. the ability to challenge Russia’s discriminatory trade practices. It now moves to the Senate for approval.

In their letter, the congressman noted, "In 2010, the Russian Federation refused to continue to accept the bilateral U.S.-Russia dairy certificate. Since that time, the U.S. has been unable to export dairy products to the Russian market.

"It is our understanding that the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have been negotiating with Russia and its Customs Union partners on a new dairy export certificate that is commercially meaningful and consistent with international standards. While we are hopeful that those negotiations will be successful, the U.S. should use every tool at its disposal to end these discriminatory practices against American dairy products."

In 2011, U.S. exports of cheese, total whey products, lactose and other dairy products reached record levels, valued at $4.82 billion, up 30% from 2010 totals of $3.71 billion.

National exports have increased 21% annually over the past eight years. Six states -- in order of production, California, Wisconsin, New York, Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Idaho -- produce nearly 60% of the nation's milk.

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