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Memorandum of Disapproval of the Meat Import Bill

November 10, 1978


I have withheld my approval of H.R. 11545, the Meat Import Act of 1978.

I do so because the bill would severely restrict Presidential authority to increase meat imports and would place a floor or minimum access level for meat imports that I believe is too low. It deprives a President of the only anti-inflationary tool available in this area.

Current law allows the President substantial flexibility to increase meat imports when, in his judgment, domestic supplies are inadequate to meet demand at reasonable prices. I am convinced that this flexibility must be preserved as a weapon against inflation.

Under this bill, however, authority to increase meat imports would be tied to declaration of a national emergency or natural disaster, or to a restrictive price formula. Under this formula, the farm price of cattle would have to increase faster than the retail meat price by more than ten percent during the first two calendar quarters of a year. Under this formula, quotas could have been relaxed only once in the last ten years.

I also believe that the United States must avoid imposing excessive restrictions on our trading partners who supply us with meat. H.R. 11545 would impose those restrictions by stipulating a minimum access level for meat imports of 1.2 billion pounds, instead of the 1.3 billion my Administration recommended. I am concerned that the bill's lower level could harm our trade relations with the meat exporting countries and thus impair their long-term reliability as sources of additional meat supplies when our own production is low, particularly at a time when we are negotiating for greater access to foreign markets for both our industrial and agricultural products.

If the Congress had enacted H.R. 11545 without these objectionable provisions, I would have been pleased to sign it, as my advisers make clear repeatedly. The bill would have amended the Meat Import Act of 1964 to provide a new formula for determining meat import quotas. The new formula would have adjusted meat import quotas up when domestic production of meats subject to the quota went down. Under the 1964 meat import law, quotas are adjusted in the opposite way, so that as domestic production declines, the limits on meat imports are tightened, at exactly the wrong time. This defect has often compelled Presidents to increase or suspend the meat import quota, in order to ensure supplies of meat at reasonable prices. The new countercyclical formula would, in most years, automatically make the necessary adjustment in the meat import quotas, without involving the President in the normal operation of the meat trade.

This Administration supports such counter-cyclical management of meat imports; in fact, the Department of Agriculture was instrumental in developing the formula which the Congress approved. But for all the advantages of the new formula, it is still an untested mechanical formula which may not respond ideally to all future situations. This is why I find the restrictions on the President's discretion to increase meat imports so objectionable and why my Administration's support for H.R. 11545 was so clearly conditioned upon removal of those restrictions and on increasing the minimum access level for meat imports to 1.3 billion pounds annually.

I am prepared to work with the Congress next year to pass a counter-cyclical meat import bill which will provide the stability and certainty the cattle industry requires, while preserving the President's existing discretionary authority and setting an acceptable minimum access level for imports.


The White House,

November 10, 1978.

Note: The text of the memorandum of disapproval was released on November 11.

Jimmy Carter, Memorandum of Disapproval of the Meat Import Bill Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/244087

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