She also told China’s Minister of Agriculture Du Qinglin that the United States does not believe his government has kept the promises it made when it entered the World Trade Organization and urged it to do so.

“We are aggressively addressing recent actions by China that are disrupting our soybean trade,” she told reporters in a press briefing before her meeting with Du. “China is our largest single market for soybeans, and we are engaging the Chinese at several levels to resolve the issue and avoid further unwarranted disruptions.”

Veneman said that while the soybean trade disruptions are not under Minister Du’s direct jurisdiction, she would use his visit to express the U.S. government’s strong concerns about it and other trade issues.

“Even though the agencies that oversee these technical regulations are not under his direct supervision, certainly he, at his ministerial level, can carry a strong message back and talk about the consequences of not complying with their obligations under the WTO,” she said.

“In addition, Treasury Secretary John Snow will be visiting China early in September, and we fully expect to have him prepared to raise those issues as well if it’s still an issue that needs to be resolved.”

Veneman said the United States has shipped soybeans worth more than $1.7 billion to China so far in this marketing year, but China recently issued a ban on further unloading of U.S. soybeans while it implements new rules regarding foreign matter.

U.S. cotton industry officials have also complained that China has yet to abide by its WTO accession agreement on purchases of U.S. cotton. Veneman did not mention the cotton issue during her press briefing.

She declined to speculate on the actions the United States could take if China continues to impose unjustified restrictions on soybean and cotton imports.

“It is a sanitary issue that we don’t believe is based on sound science,” she said. “We do have the ability to go to the WTO. China is now a member of the WTO so we could bring an action in the WTO if we feel that we can’t resolve the issue.”

The secretary also declined to discuss whether the Bush administration would take a position on the payment limit issue during the upcoming Senate debate on the Fiscal Year 2004 agricultural appropriations bill. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, has said he would introduce an amendment to the measure that would tighten limits on farm payments.

“The Payment Limit Commission report we expect will be out shortly,” she noted. “We’re looking forward to reading it and being briefed on their report and what they’ve found. But the department has taken no position on payment limits.”

During her meeting with Du, the first visit by a Chinese agriculture minister in over 10 years, they signed a memorandum of understanding promoting continued bilateral cooperation in scientific research and agricultural trade between the United States and China.

Veneman and Du also exchanged views on the ongoing WTO agricultural negotiations, and reviewed progress on addressing trade opportunities that will result once phytosanitary matters such as with soybeans are resolved.

“Both of our nations' producers and ranchers have much to gain if WTO members succeed in agreeing on a framework for trade liberalization,” she said. “We look forward to working with China at the WTO ministerial meeting in Cancun, Mexico, next month to achieve this goal.

“Additionally, we offer substantial market opportunities to each other if progress can be made on phytosanitary and other technical barriers," Veneman said. "Through the MOU, we have established a framework for a greatly expanded program of cooperation and partnership in some critically important areas for agriculture, such as biotechnology."

The MOU establishes a Joint Committee on Cooperation in Agriculture to develop and guide future collaboration between the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture. The committee will oversee existing agricultural working groups and encourage greater involvement of other U.S. and Chinese agencies. The MOU also establishes a high-level biotechnology joint working group.

The document outlines efforts relating to research, trade and trade capacity-building activities aimed at strengthening scientific cooperation and trade relations between USDA and the Chinese government. The MOU focuses on areas such as agricultural biotechnology, crop research, food processing, and marketing and scientific issues relating to international agricultural agreements.

In July 2002, Veneman met with Chinese officials in Beijing to discuss international trade issues and a framework for developing bilateral cooperation in agriculture. Since 1978, cooperation between USDA and China has facilitated the exchange of over 1,400 American and Chinese agricultural scientists and officials, enhanced agribusiness and trade linkages, supported research for food security and promoted agricultural education and development. A copy of the MOU is available on the Internet at http://www.fas.usda.gov/icd/rsed/china/0803mou.htm.

e-mail: flaws@primediabusiness.com