April 28 - Progress on some issues

Every so often, I need to play catch-up on some issues I’ve discussed on Samuelson Sez and this is one of those weeks. I’m pleased to report some positive progress on two issues.

First subject is WRDA, the Water Resources Development Act dealing with modernization of seven Locks & Dams on the Upper Mississippi and Illinois Rivers. I’m pleased to report the House several days ago voted 394-25 in favor of the legislation. It now moves on to the Senate where California Senator Barbara Boxer, Chairperson of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said it could reach the Senate floor for a full vote before the May recess.

The legislation is based on what Senate and House conferees agreed on last year before the Congressional session ended without a final vote. In addition to the modernization of locks and dams, the House bill also calls for a new ecosystem restoration program for the Upper Mississippi River that would enhance the natural resources of the region. That should appeal to environmental groups that have expressed concern about the project. The White House also has some issues with the cost of the project and the impact on the budget.

Second issue deals with opening the South Korean market to U.S. beef. As discussed several weeks ago, South Korea badly wants a free trade agreement with the United States. Officials of the U.S. cattle industry, as well as members of Congress and USDA, are saying no trade agreement until South Korea, at one time our third largest beef export market, again opens its borders to U. S. beef. The border was closed after the discovery of our first case of Mad Cow Disease in 2003.

The door opened just a crack a few days ago when Korean importers accepted a shipment of 6½ tons of beef from Creekstone Farms based in Kansas. This is the first U.S. beef to be sold to Korean consumers since December of 2003 and USDA said another shipment should be on its way soon.

This comes after Korea said last year it was re-opening its border to our beef and then rejected three shipments of beef they said contained unwanted bone chips. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns said the amount was so minuscule, it amounted to an artificial trade barrier on the part of Korea. There is another encouraging element to this story. Congress and our trade officials are standing firm in saying no free trade agreement until the border is completely open to U.S. beef. I commend them for that.

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