WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The International Dairy Foods Association, the trade association representing the U.S. dairy processing industry, applauded the efforts of the U.S. negotiating team at the Sixth World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Conference, which ended Sunday night in Hong Kong.

In meetings with U.S. trade officials during the conference, IDFA stressed that the United States should remain very ambitious in all three 'pillars' of the agriculture negotiations: market access, domestic support and export competition.

"Each pillar has important implications for the competitiveness of U.S. dairy, both in global markets and domestically," said IDFA Senior Vice President Clay Hough.

"We are pleased to see that the European Union (EU) and all the WTO membership have finally agreed that agricultural export subsidies should be eliminated [by 2013], a longstanding goal for U.S. dairy," he added. IDFA hopes the negotiators can build on that step and work to cut trade-distorting domestic support and to open markets.

Despite the limited movement on issues in Hong Kong, Hough said that "an ambitious result still remains viable."

"Our industry will re-double its efforts," he said. "The upcoming year will be the year these negotiations succeed or fail for the U.S. dairy sector, so it is imperative that we remain deeply engaged as an industry with our government to help determine the best course to advance our objectives. This is the best opportunity we have had in decades to position our industry for unparalleled global market success."

Neal Schuman, president of Arthur Schuman, Inc., and a member of the IDFA delegation, noted that "the final agreement will have a direct impact on my business."

Schuman emphasized that the United States has "great potential to be a big supplier of cheese and other dairy products to the global market. We now source almost half our cheese in the United States. Depending on how ambitious the Doha outcome is, we could source much more cheese from the U.S. for exports, building on what was accomplished through the Uruguay Round."

The IDFA delegation also reiterated its opposition to the EU effort to extend geographical indications. The conference did not delineate an outcome on this issue, but only agreed to keep it on the agenda. This matter continues to be an extremely contentious point between the United States and the EU.

The IDFA delegation also talked with U.S. negotiators about the importance of foreign market access for U.S. dairy companies.

"We will continue this dialogue in earnest as the U.S. is in the process of finalizing its market access priorities in agriculture," said Hough. "IDFA intends to work closely with the administration and Congress to support the Doha negotiating effort in 2006.

IDFA is the Washington, D.C.-based organization representing the nation's dairy processing and manufacturing industries and their suppliers. IDFA is composed of three constituent organizations: Milk Industry Foundation, National Cheese Institute and International Ice Cream Association. Its 500-plus members range from large multinational corporations to single-plant operations, and represent more than 85 percent of the total volume of milk, cultured products, cheese, and ice cream and frozen desserts produced and marketed in the United States -- an estimated $90-billion a year industry.

SOURCE: International Dairy Foods Association news release via PR Newswire.