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Dexter man pushes farm trade issues

Sunday, June 5, 2005

(Photo)
Charles Kruse
DEXTER - A Stoddard County man is on a committee that works with U.S. trade and directly advises President Bush on trade issues.

Charles Kruse has been a member of the President?s Advisory Committee for Trade and Policy Negotiations since its beginning in April 2003.

It didn?t take him long to respond when Kruse first got a call from the White House, asking if he would serve on the committee. And after Bush was re-

elected last November, Kruse got another call inquiring about his interests, since he was one of the few members the President was considering reappointing. Once again, it didn?t take Kruse long to answer.

?There are a lot of new people on the committee,? Kruse said. ?I felt very flattered and very honored to get reappointed.?

The individuals serving are representatives of business, including the CEO of IBM and several other major companies in the United States. ?Out of 25 people, there are only two people representing agriculture,? Kruse said. ?I have been very fortunate to be one of those people.

Kruse described the committee as ?a cross-section representation of the entire U.S. economy.? Their main responsibility is to evaluate trade issues, and the representatives use their different experiences to make the best recommendations to the President.

The number of times the group meets depends on the issues, according to Kruse, but he said the minimum is five or six time a year. However, there are also numerous conference calls and a lot of interaction is done through e-

mails and faxes.

Representing agriculture, Kruse said he is constantly trying to assess the impact of trade on agriculture. ?I feel very strongly about making sure recommendations to the President are in the best interest to agriculture,? he said.

Over the past few years there were several bilateral trade agreements between the U.S. and other countries, Kruse said. While some may criticize these and prefer multilateral agreements, Kruse disagreed.

?I think the administration has been really smart in going after some of these bilateral agreements,? he said. ?The more we can do one country to another I think is a positive thing.?

One of the committee?s priorities at this time is a bilateral trade agreement, the Central America Free Trade Agreement. Central American countries have essentially no tariffs imposed on goods they sell in the U.S. at this time, however high tariffs are imposed on U.S. goods sold in those countries. These agreements will basically take away the tariffs we have to pay, Kruse said. Kruse described this agreement, which Congress should vote on within the next couple of months, as a huge net positive for agriculture, especially in Missouri. ?When you look at Missouri agriculture, this Central America Free Trade Agreement is a big plus for us,? he noted.

Some concerns about the agreement were raised by sugar producers. But Kruse believes those concerns were addressed and the agreement is a good one. Looking across the spectrum, the agreement is good not only for Missouri agriculture, but American agriculture as well, he said.

Another priority issue deals with Brazil?s challenge of the U.S. cotton program in the WTO. ?It?s something that?s very critical,? Kruse said. ?If Brazil is successful, it would dramatically change the future of how we support agriculture in this country.?

He also pointed out that while goods such as cotton and rice are only grown in the Bootheel of Missouri and other select areas of the nation, these issues are important to everyone. This situation is broader than just cotton, he added.

?It?s an issue we?ve spent a lot of time on,? he said. ?We want to try to resolve it in a way that is good for American agriculture, certainly cotton, but also agriculture in general.?

The committee is also working to reopen the beef market with Japan, the largest customer, after Japan pulled their market when a cow with mad cow disease was discovered in Washington state. It?s a difficult task, but the market will reopen in the future, Kruse said.

Although a large amount of livestock is not grown in Southeast Missouri, Kruse pointed out that this issue is still important to local farmers, who grow corn and soybeans used to feed livestock. ?The more U.S. beef we can sell across the world, the more feed we will need to feed the livestock,? he said. Ninety-six percent of people in the world live somewhere other than the U.S., which creates opportunities for American agriculture, Kruse said. From his perspective, that is why trade is so critical to the success of agriculture.

?We want fair trade,? he said. ?In any agreement we enter into, we want to be fair to American agriculture.?

Kruse once again noted that trade should be an important issue for everyone. It is also imperative to be able to sell what agriculture produces in America. ?We have to maintain what we now have and continually work to open new doors,? he said.

In addition to his responsibilities on the advisory committee, Kruse is serving his seventh two-year term as president of the Missouri Farm Bureau Federation and is a member of the American Farm Bureau Federation Board of Directors.