WASHINGTON, D.C. - Congressman Bob Smith (R-OR), Chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture, today applauded Canada's decision to drop restrictions prohibiting the transshipment of U.S. durum wheat through St. Lawrence Seaway facilities, shipments previously prohibited by concerns over karnal bunt fungus.
Chairman Smith and five other members of the U.S. House of Representatives had raised the issue with Canadian officials earlier this week, as the Committee on Agriculture, on a trade mission to Canada, continued Smith's emphasis on reducing barriers to American farm products and encouraging agricultural trade. The decision's timing will allow for the movement of durum wheat in the 1997 spring opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway, allowing U.S. durum wheat producers to reduce costs up to two dollars per metric ton. Predictions are that this will mean $1 million annually in wheat producers' hands.
"I'm delighted by the Canadians' decision, which really reflects both common sense and sound science. Our discussions in Ottawa were very productive, and I am confident that this decision will help pave the way for a better understanding, and greater cooperation, on agricultural trade issues. Canada is our second largest agricultural export market and we have a number of ongoing trade concerns with them. It's important that we continue working to resolve these issues face to face," Smith said.
Concerned by the discovery of Karnal bunt in the southwestern United States, Canada prohibited the transshipment of a number of grains through the St. Lawrence Seaway from the states of Arizona, New Mexico, California, and Texas. In addition, U.S. durum wheat was prohibited from entry, except for in-transit movement (shipments through the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Seaway that do not stop), and to top off (add more wheat in route) in 1996.
The restriction hurt durum wheat exports to destinations normally served through Atlantic ports, making it more expensive to buyers. Normally, U.S. northern plains states could carry out a lakes-based export program, even after the Great Lakes shipping season ends in early to mid-December. Without access to the St. Lawrence facilities, northern plains producers have faced significant losses as their wheat has been shipped through higher priced Gulf port routes during the winter season. In 1994/95, before the restrictions were imposed, approximately 125,000 tons of durum wheat was transshipped through Canadian facilities along the St. Lawrence.
In meetings this week with the Congressional delegation, the Canadians expressed confidence in the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service's (APHIS) National Karnal bunt Survey, which demonstrated the absence of Karnal bunt in prairie producing areas of the northern plains.
Smith, who represents Oregon's Second Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives, has made opening markets for American agricultural exports the Agriculture Committee's highest priority in the 105th Congress.