The National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman last Friday, urging USDA to immediately raise U.S. tariffs on imports of certain foreign cheese products — American-type cheeses.

NMPF says quick action is needed because these products have flooded the U.S. market this year, noting that in the first seven months of 2002, imports of American-type cheese have nearly doubled from 2001 levels — from 7,096 metric tons in 2001 to 14,874 metric tons so far this year. Furthermore, imports of these products have surged nearly 300 percent between 2000 and 2002.

More importantly, says the organization, is the fact that American-type cheese imports have by now likely reached a volume of 16,528 metric tons. And that entitles the U.S. government to impose higher than normal tariffs on such products to slow their entry rate. This is allowable under provisions of the 1994 Uruguay Round GATT agreement, which says that the U.S. government has the prerogative to use special safeguard provisions when certain dairy imports exceed and agreed-upon threshold — which for 2002 is 16,528 metric tons for this cheese category.

In its action-urging letter, NMPF says that, “milk prices received by dairy farmers have fallen by fully one-third this year, cheese prices have dropped below support levels and the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) has been purchasing cheese under the dairy price support program. Taking immediate safeguard action on American-type cheese would help strengthen milk prices, improve depressed dairy farm income and reduce CCC outlays to purchase cheese.”

Additionally NMPF reminds USDA that it requested similar tariff action last year for butter and butter substitutes to no avail. And that imports of these products significantly exceeded safeguard levels and further unbalanced the domestic market’s supply and demand.

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