January 29, 2002

January 29, 2002

This week's program is about trade but, before I get into that, I can't help myself. I have a message for our loyal European allies that are crying crocodile tears over the alleged inhumane treatment of al-Qaeda and Taliban prisoners. One month ago those guys were freezing, starving, dodging bullets and bombs. Now they get three squares, a warm dry bed in the Caribbean. Should they complain? Is it really inhumane that they are now clean, beardless and their fleas are gone?

Anyhow, the subject today is trade. President Bush wants the Senate to pass trade promotion authority. The ag industry has a lot at stake in expanding trade. When you take a closer look, it is clear that we face some real dilemmas.

Let me explain. There is more steel produced in the world than can be consumed. (Sound familiar?) The International Trade Commission has asked President Bush to enact protectionist tariffs of as much as 20% to

protect our suffering steel industry from cheap imports. At the same time, Mexico has enacted a 20% tax on soft drinks produced with corn sweetener to protect their sugar industry. We are hopping mad. Their action could cost us 300 million dollars in trade, hammering our corn market. I talked with B. Oglesby, Chief of Staff to U.S. Trade Ambassador Zoel1ick, in hopes that we could quickly turn the Mexican Government's decision around. I'm not encouraged.

Now if President Bush gives the steel industry 20% protection, how can we fight the Mexican 20% protection with any credibility? Yes, it can be argued that the foreign steel pricing is unfair, but you either support free trade or you don't.

Until next week, this is John Block... reporting from Washington.