It's time to press nations that refuse U.S. pork (Sen. Tom Harkin)

Yesterday, I sent letters to U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to step up more assertive action to lift unfounded and damaging trade barriers that other countries have thrown up against U.S. pork products.

After the initial outbreak of the H1N1 virus earlier this year, several countries banned the importation of U.S. pork, asserting the incorrect claim that the virus could be transmitted by pork. Since that time, several international human and animal health organizations have explained authoritatively that there is no risk of contracting H1N1 from eating pork and several countries have lifted their ban. Fifteen countries, however, still block pork products from the U.S. This has caused a sharp decline in hog pricesJune hog contracts are only $57 per hundredweight (carcass weight) compared to $69 per hundredweight before the outbreak in Apriland put a huge strain on the U.S. pork industry.

With all the hardship facing U.S. pork producers, it is high time to ratchet up our case pressing nations that are unjustifiably refusing U.S. pork imports, especially China and Russia. If they persist in these bans, we must move to apply more formal diplomatic or trade sanctions against them. Since China is a member of the World Trade Organization and Russia is not, the forms that those sanctions take will likely differ. However, the principle of fundamental fairness and the precarious state of the U.S. pork sector demand that we take strong action as soon as possible.