The mainstream American press is often fascinated with trade disputes, especially if they are between the United States and some other perceived big power. There was a time that any little disagreement between the United States and Japan was worthy of the front page (or at least high up in the business section). Today, you are likely to see reporting on any kind of trade fight between Washington and Beijing, and most tiffs between the European Union and the United States. Maybe not a disagreement, say, between Washington and Kuala Lumpur or Nairobi. What you will almost never see is a report on a trade dispute that has been successfully and amicably resolved. That’s good news – and modern journalism abhors good news.
At the other extreme are the annual reports of U.S. Government agencies to the Congress on what they have accomplished in the past year. The good news is all there, but a reporter under deadline isn’t likely to take the time to figure it out. Springtime, however, is the season of good news for U.S. trade policy, simply because many of the annual reports to Congress come due about now. Having odd tastes, I actually glance at such reports and am now in a position to report to you on trade problems that were actually resolved during the past year. I draw on reports recently filed by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative on technical barriers to trade and on barriers to food and agriculture exports. Be warned, you are about to be exposed to good trade news:
Telecommunications equipment testing. Both the United States and Mexico have complex product standards for telecom equipment, but neither recognized the ability of labs on the other side of the border to test products to their national standard. Before the end of 2012 you will be able to take your product to a U.S. testing lab (the same one you might use for U.S. tests) and ask them to test it according to the Mexican standard – and Mexico will recognize the result. It works the other way, too.
Phthalates in toys. I’m not sure what a phthalate is, but it’s bad. Argentina thinks so, too, and established tough standards for the phthalate content of toys and other children’s products. Washington got upset when we discovered that all the testing of imports had to be done in one overworked Argentine lab – and that Argentine products weren’t being tested at all. Buenos Aires simply assumed that Argentine toymakers are morally superior and wouldn’t put those evil phthalates in the toys. Washington pointed these things out and Argentina has now decided that foreign labs can, indeed, test for phthalates. I don’t know what they are doing with their own manufacturers.Selling bourbon in Vietnam. Vietnam proposed last year to ban sales of distilled spirits that contained more than a certain amount of nasty things called aldehydes. That’s OK, except that the Vietnamese set the permitted aldehydes at such a low level that American whiskeys would have been excluded from the market. You see, aldehydes are a natural by-product of the distilling process and there is no scientific proof that they cause health problems in the concentrations found in your favorite bourbon. Washington talked it over with Hanoi, and Vietnam agreed that their proposed aldehyde standard was a little much and withdrew it. You can still get a bourbon and water at the Metropole Hotel bar in Hanoi.
Organic foods. Brussels and Washington actually agreed to recognize that a food deemed organic on one side of the Atlantic would be considered organic on the other side. Read all about it!.
Selling beef to Arabs. After several years of talking, Washington convinced the United Arab Emirates to remove the UAE’s restrictions on importing American beef products. This was one of the hangovers from the old scare about bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).
Selling chickens to everybody. Washington convinced China to allow in chickens from Pennsylvania and Texas that had previously been banned during bird flu scares. Ghana decided that it could accept U.S. testing for polychlorinated biphenyl and dioxin in the poultry products they were buying from America. In another bird flu hangover, Kuwait decided it could again accept frozen and chilled U.S. poultry, and also lifted its ban on live fowl, hatching eggs, and one‐day old chicks from Missouri and Minnesota. And Taiwan decided that American poultry products no longer carry bird flu and could be allowed onto the island.
And, finally, fruits. South Korea and Japan both reached the conclusion that they could rely on U.S. testing for pesticide residues. Seoul is now allowing American cherries, blueberries and citrus fruits to enter the market. Japan has decided that its citizens can safely eat American citrus, strawberries, cherries and celery. Don’t know what happened to blueberries in Tokyo.
You generally only hear about disputes like these when they are getting started – when they are still “bad news”. It apparently isn’t news when they are resolved, but, as Paul Harvey used to say on American radio, that’s “the rest of the story“.