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IDAHO GROWERS FEELING THE STING OF EC'S MARKETPLACE UNIFICATION

With the 12 member nations of the European Community in their deadline year for marketplace unification, a University of Idaho agricultural policy specialist is wary.

"By law, they are required to take more and more products domestically," says Neil Meyer. "This may make it more difficult for us to export, because they will use European products first."Europe's Common Agricultural Policy, or CAP, has long employed high tariffs to discourage imports and protect farmers with generous subsidies.

Now, the targeted elimination of internal trade barriers through the "EC92" program makes it even more likely that Europeans will aggressively grow their own, Meyer says.

"Since they can grow oranges in Spain, the CAP puts the price up for imports so they use all the Spanish oranges first," he says. "Even if U.S. oranges are cheaper, the barrier around the countries makes the imported product more expensive to European consumers."

Harold Blain, administrator of the Idaho Pea and Lentil Commission, says Idaho producers have been affected firsthand. While they get 8 cents a pound for their peas, European growers are guaranteed 14 or 15 cents.

Understandable threefold increases in European pea production "cut down on the amount of product we can ship," Blain says. Great Britain used to buy 80 million pounds a year of U.S. smooth-seeded peas, but the figure today is under 10 million.

"The more they become united, the more they push for their subsidy program," he says.

At American Fine Foods, international sales director Larry Lee agrees that EC92 will probably "overall make it tougher" for U.S. exporters.

The Payette company has been selling canned asparagus in Switzerland and Germany, but Lee says lower internal and higher external tariffs are likely to place it at competitive disadvantage - especially for new products.

"As an exporter, you like to go in one product at a time and get a toehold," he says. "We have tough competition to begin with. The only thing that the U.S. has to offer is quality and the value for your dollar."

Meyer says a crucial question is how the European Community nations will respond to critical needs in the Eastern Bloc, many of whose economically discouraged citizens are fleeing westward.

Meyer anticipates policies that would persuade potential immigrants to stay put, possibly including special tariffs to encourage food production as a profitable economic enterprise.

At the Idaho Department of Agriculture, marketing and development administrator Kelly Olson sees more opportunities than obstacles for Idaho farmers through EC92.

She believes trade restrictions will be eased through the anticipated harmonizing across Europe of nearly 70 standards addressing plant and animal health.

"Today, if we want to export a food or any other ag product to the EC, we have to the meet the requirements of all 12 nations," says Olson. "I don't know too many companies who want to spend the kind of money it takes to develop a European market and only limit themselves to one country."

Meyer predicts the negotiation of these standards will be a "long, slow and tedious process."

Olson agrees but adds, "At least it will be one set of standards, and we will know what we have to do to get into that market."