Bennet, Coats Send Bipartisan Letter in Support of American Bison Products

Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, Senator Dan Coats (R-Ind.) and a bipartisan group of 31 senators today sent a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Thomas Vilsack and U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Ambassador Ron Kirk in support of American bison exports.

The letter urges the administration to provide bison producers in the United States with the necessary tools to remain competitive in the global marketplace. While demand for bison exports remains high, producers, processors and other actors in the bison supply chain face unique trade challenges that hinder the industry from reaching its full potential.

“Colorado’s bison industry is strong, but it could be even stronger if given an opportunity to compete,” said Bennet. “By stabilizing the bison trade, we could give Colorado’s bison industry more certainty to expand into new markets and boost our local agriculture economy. We need to ensure we are fighting for exports, such as bison, with the potential for new and broad markets.”

“We must capitalize on this opportunity to make an already strong American export even more competitive internationally,” said Coats. “Bison exports create jobs in Indiana and across the country. They should be a top priority of America’s trade agenda.” 

In addition to Senators Coats and Bennet, the letter was co-signed by Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Mark Udall (D-Colo.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), John Thune (R-S.D.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Ron Johnson (R- Wis.), James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Al Franken (D- Minn.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Johnny Isakson (R- Ga.), James Risch (R-Idaho), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Kent Conrad (D-ND) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.).

The full letter is available below.

Dear Secretary Vilsack and Ambassador Kirk:

We write today to highlight issues affecting the competitiveness of U.S. bison exports, as well as to encourage the Administration to provide bison producers with the tools necessary to respond to growing consumer demand for their products and to take advantage of valuable economic opportunities abroad.

With 49 of 50 U.S. states producing bison today, boosting the competitiveness of the American bison industry in international markets has the potential to yield significant business opportunity across the country.  In the European Union (EU), for instance, demand for bison meat is dramatically outpacing supply.  While U.S. bison exports have begun making significant inroads into European markets, a recent tariff change by the EU underscores the importance of establishing a unique place for bison in America’s trade agenda.

As you know, U.S. bison and beef products are eligible for export to the EU under what is known as the “Hilton Quota,” which carries a 20 percent tariff. At the same time, U.S. beef produced without the use of growth-promoting hormones may enter EU markets at zero-tariff. This market access was established as a result of the 2009 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the United States and the EU in order to temporarily resolve a trade dispute that resulted from a split decision by the World Trade Organization on export standards placed on U.S. beef by the EU.  Even though U.S. bison was not included in the 2009 MOU, the EU was admitting bison (which, by U.S. law, is produced hormone and antibiotic-free) at zero-tariff until summer 2011. The EU has since rescinded this practice, once again subjecting bison to the 20 percent tariff imposed under the Hilton Quota.

Losing favorable duty treatment for U.S. bison exports bound for the EU represents a significant economic setback for the American bison industry.  In today’s market, the EU’s 20 percent tariff pushes bison meat beyond the price threshold for most European consumers.  The National Bison Association estimates that at zero-tariff treatment, U.S. producers could export 1 million pounds of meat to the EU—or 4 percent of live bison inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 2010—over the course of the 2012 harvest.

We support making bison a priority in America’s trade agenda for the EU and other important regions.  Creating a favorable trade environment will help to ensure that U.S. bison exports receive predictable treatment from our trading partners.  It will allow producers, processors, and other actors in the bison supply chain to make important business planning decisions that position the industry to compete successfully in international markets. In achieving these important goals, we encourage the Administration to develop tools that will help the bison industry to expand into and to analyze new market opportunities, including a USDA-issued Certificate of Authenticity.  If necessary, Congressional involvement may also be appropriate, and we would be happy to work with the Administration on this matter. 

Finally, we appreciate the Administration’s efforts to ensure the effectiveness and practicability of new residue testing requirements for bison promulgated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) at the request of the EU.  Accounting for the views of the American bison industry will continue to be critical in creating a residue testing policy that both guarantees the future of U.S. bison exports to Europe and helps the industry succeed and grow.

Agricultural exports represent a bright spot in the American economy at a time when few sectors are finding success.  The Administration’s efforts to identify and expand markets abroad for quality U.S. agricultural products support countless livelihoods across rural America, from producers, to processors, to transporters.  We want to build on these successes.

We look forward to working with you on these important bison-related issues.