U.S.D.A. official urges China to be more open in revealing grain import needs

by Teresa Acklin
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   Richard Rominger, deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, told the recent Asia Grain Markets Conference in Bangkok, Thailand, that he sought to persuade China to be more forthcoming about its crops and import requirements in dealing with Washington.

   On a recent trip to Beijing, he pointed out to Chinese officials that if U.S.D.A. officials had been aware of China's maize import requirements this year, the U.S. set-aside on the 1995 maize crop probably would have been placed at zero.

   As a result of not knowing, the U.S.D.A. ordered the set-aside, with the result that the 1995 crop was smaller than it might have been. Mr. Rominger said this secrecy came at great cost to the Chinese in prices paid for their purchases of maize.

   In discussing the importance of Asia and the Pacific countries as trading partners of U.S. agriculture, Mr. Rominger also cited his concerns about China's slow movement in agreeing to the terms of entry into the World Trade Organization. He said that U.S. officials would be meeting with the Chinese to seek to resolve differences.

   He also pointed to the optimism of Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman on trade with Asia and other Pacific Rim nations, seeing this opportunity as important to boosting U.S. agricultural exports by 50% over the 1994 level of U.S. $42 billion by the end of the decade. “This is an ambitious but achievable goal,” Mr. Rominger said. He also noted the approaching “new world order in trade” as a result of the Uruguay Round agreement and the enactment this year by the U.S. Congress of a five-year farm bill. He expressed hope that the new farm act would be helpful to U.S. agriculture in competing for market share, specifically hoping that the law retains current trade programs.

   In reviewing the Uruguay Round, Mr. Rominger said it should be of benefit to all nations. He cited the rapid privatization of trade in grain, estimating that the current 50% of all grain trade handled by private buyers could rise to 80% to 90% by 2000. He said the implications of this change included increased emphasis on quality requirements as well as the need for more flexibility in export marketing.

   Mr. Rominger underscored his belief that the Export Enhancement Program, or EEP, would continue to be an “important tool” in the U.S. export marketing arsenal. He suggested that EEP should be available up to the maximum allowed by the Uruguay Round accord, providing the way to challenge unfair trade practices. “We would be foolish not to keep the EEP authority,” he said in commenting on such efforts in Congress.

   He assured the audience that the U.S.D.A. would be vigilant in protecting against hidden trade barriers, noting the action taken before the World Trade Organization in opposition to the European Union's import duty setting on wheat, which he said violated the Uruguay Round agreement on grain pricing.