Washington, D.C. -- Thousands of U.S. lamb producers and their supporters continue to wait -- 28 days and counting after the promised announcement on sheep tariffs to Australia and New Zealand from President Clinton.
"The wait is ridiculous," said Republican U.S. Senator Mike Enzi of Wyoming, the nation's third largest sheep producing state. "The president must act."
The International Trade Commission (ITC) decided on Mar. 26 to impose some form of tariffs on lamb imports from Australia and New Zealand. The president had a June 5 deadline to approve, modify or deny a remedy, but the deadline has come and gone with no presidential action.
"Rural America is reaching out for help and being ignored. The president seems to be more concerned with foreign producers in Australia and New Zealand than domestic producers here at home," Enzi said. "People are seeing the president's delay as a victory for Australians and New Zealanders, and a defeat for Americans."
Lamb producers argue that their request for import restrictions is entirely consistent with the rules of the World Trade Organization, the international body that governs trade.
In 1998, the American Sheep Industry Association (ASI) filed a petition that triggered a six-month investigation on the harmful effects of Australian and New Zealand lamb imports on the domestic sheep industry. The ITC unanimously ruled that low-price lamb imports from Australia and New Zealand have damaged the domestic industry.
The ITC found that foreign lamb imports to the U.S. rose 47 percent between 1993 and 1997, and those imports undercut domestic lamb prices by 20 to 40 percent. In 1998 alone, lamb
imports from Australia increased by 30 percent over 1997.
U.S. law allows the president to impose import restrictions if a domestic industry is threatened by a surge in imports. News reports indicate that a nine percent tariff is possible on all Australian and New Zealand lamb imports. So far, there has been no official word on what the U.S. will do.
"This decision is long overdue," Enzi said. "The livelihood of our own producers hangs in the balance."