Agricultural agreement between China, U.S. to end ban on wheat from Pacific Northwest

by Teresa Acklin
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    WASHINGTON — Trade and agriculture officials of the United States and China on April 10 signed an agricultural agreement that ended a decades-old ban by China on wheat imports from the U.S. Pacific Northwest because of a wheat fungus known as Tilletia controversa Kuhn (TCK) smut.

   The announcement came during the U.S. visit of Chinese Premier Zhu Rongii, and followed more than 20 years of work and discussions between the U.S. and China.

   China's campaign to gain membership in the World Trade Organization gave the U.S. better leverage and underscored the mutual interest of settling the TCK smut issue, said Karen Fegley, director of the Wheat Export Trade Education Committee. China has been pushing to enter the W.T.O. to gain easier access to Western markets for its goods. Under the agreement, China will establish a new tolerance level of 30,000 TCK spores per 50 grams of grain. U.S. grain industry officials said that level was high enough that exporters should be able to ship to China without the fear that a cargo will be rejected.

   The TCK agreement is only for one year but contains provisions for it to be extended.

   Although U.S. officials say the fungus is harmless, China has been determined to keep it out. Before the agreement, China had claimed that wheat imports with any level of TCK could potentially result in the infection of domestically grown wheat and reduce China's wheat production.

   China also has promised to set a 4.5-million-tonne import quota for corn beginning January 1 if it becomes a W.T.O. member. Currently, U.S. corn exports to China are effectively blocked. The new corn import quota would have a low 1% duty and grow to 7.2 million tonnes by 2004.

   Private Chinese buyers also would be allowed to buy 25% of the corn imports, with that portion growing to 40% by 2004. State-run enterprises now dominate China's import market.

   China also has promised improved access for soybeans, soybean meal, soybean oil, rice, barley, malting barley, sorghum and fruits once it becomes a W.T.O. member.

   Daniel G. Amstutz, president and chief executive officer of the North American Export Grain Association, Inc., Washington, said the agreement on TCK gave U.S. wheat farmers access to “an enormously important market of 1.25 million people.”

   Eldon Lawless, chairman of the Kansas Wheat Commission and a wheat farmer at Belle Plaine, Kansas, said the agreement “brings an opportunity for U.S. wheat to once again find its place in China's wheat market.”

   “Ten years ago the U.S. was selling 15 million tonnes of wheat per year to China and much of that was hard red winter from Kansas,” he added. “U.S. wheat growers are anxious to once again provide a quality product to the world's largest wheat-consuming nation.”