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Clinton’s Lamb Imports Decision Due

June 24, 1999

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Under pressure from the American sheep industry, the Clinton administration is in the uncomfortable position of deciding whether to impose stiff tariffs on lamb imports just months before World Trade Organization negotiations begin.

President Clinton may make an announcement soon within the next two weeks, U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky said Wednesday. A decision had been due June 5.

``We are weighing what is the most appropriate and least trade restrictive policy,″ Barshefsky told a House Agriculture Committee hearing.

The debate pits the U.S. against Australia and New Zealand, longtime trade allies.

In February, the U.S. International Trade Commission, an independent trade regulator, ruled in favor of U.S. sheep farmers that low-priced lamb products from abroad had hurt their industry.

All six commissioners have recommended at least some level of protection, ranging from quotas to tariffs, for the four-year period sought by the U.S. industry.

Sheep producers have said that during the first nine months of last year, 76.9 million pounds of imports entered the United States _ 19 percent more than the first nine months of 1997. Australia and New Zealand supply 95 percent of imported lamb, which now accounts for almost one-third of the domestic market.

``There is no question Australia and New Zealand are critical allies,″ Barshefsky said. ``There is no question U.S. policy has been one substantially favoring free trade. In this case. . . I think it’s incumbent upon the administration to think carefully through the remedy options.″

Just last week, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer met with Barshefsky, Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott and members of Congress during a two-day visit, saying U.S. officials ``don’t want to kick sand in the eyes of their friends.″

``This delay is really weakening the confidence in our trade laws,″ said Cathy Cummins, spokeswoman for the American Sheep Industry Association. ``We feel we played by the rules. ... We don’t think the U.S. government should sacrifice its domestic sheep industry simply to satisfy the requests of another government.″

Meanwhile, Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who represents thousands of Texas sheep growers, introduced legislation Wednesday that would accelerate procedures for addressing import surges, saying the Clinton administration ``has dragged its feet in enforcing our current trade laws.″

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