September 21, 2005

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden was honored last week for his work on behalf of the Northwest pear industry.

Walden, R-Ore., received an appreciation plaque on Sept. 14 that was created by Hood River artist Trudi Klinger of Mystic Mud Studios. The award was presented to Walden on the nation’s capital steps by Kevin Moffitt, president of the Pear Bureau Northwest.

“Congressman Walden has been a strong and consistent supporter of the Northwest pear industry from the beginning of his legislative career,” said Moffitt. “We wanted to recognize and thank him for the many different aspects of support he has shown, which has ranged from export issues to helping get more fresh pears into the nation’s school system.”

Ralph Smiley, president of the Hood River County Farm Bureau, echoed Moffitt’s affirmation of Walden’s efforts on behalf of farmers. He said Walden had a good working knowledge of the tree fruit business because he had grown up on a cherry orchard in The Dalles and currently resides in Hood River. Since taking federal office in 1998, Walden has advocated for changes in foreign trade laws and other legislation to benefit American farmers.

“We think the world of him because he’s really been working on our behalf most of his life – we just couldn’t find a better person for that office” said Smiley.

Walden was primarily given the plaque for voting in favor of the Central American and Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (CAFTFA-DR). That legislation, which has been signed into law by President George W. Bush, is intended to “level the playing field” in the import/export market with six nations. Under CAFTA-DR, which has not yet taken effect, most tariffs on U.S. produce – some that top 60 percent of value – will be dropped. Walden believed it was only fair to change the import rules since 99 percent of imports from Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic arrive in domestic markets duty-free.

The inequity in trade occurred more than 20 years ago in an effort by the U.S. to help the ailing economies of Central America. Since these countries are all now growing in prosperity, Walden joined many other officials in the belief that it was time for U.S. farmers to also be given a break.

Walden contended that CAFTA-DR would grant customs agents more authority for inspections. And violators of environmental regulations would face stronger enforcement actions. He said another benefit of CAFTA-DR was that foreign competitors could no longer create regulations just to close markets to American imports.

“It’s just the standard rule of economics, we produce fruit of terrific value and quality and now we can compete on the price,” said Walden.

Mark Powers, vice-president of the Northwest Horticulture Council, said Walden has also played a key role in safeguarding orchards from foreign diseases and pests. For example, the federal official lobbied for a ban on Ya Pears from China until a fungal disease could be brought under control.

“Congressman Walden has been a valuable and strong friend of the fruit industry for a number of years and we just felt it was time to thank him for his hard work,” said Powers.

Fred Duckwall, president of Duckwall-Pooley Fruit Company in Odell, said Walden always finds time to sit down and visit with local officials who make the trip to Washington, D.C.

“We always appreciate the hospitality, it makes you feel like your government is there to listen to you. He is very unassuming and always makes you feel at home,” said Duckwall, who also serves as a Hood River Port Commissioner.

Walden said encouraging the Department of Agriculture to purchase pears for the school lunch program was an “easy sell.”

“Kids like them and they are high in nutrition,” he said.

In 1999, one of Walden’s first actions was to get pears taken out of an export bill that sharply limited the shipping grade and size. Since that time, Walden has looked for every opportunity to help farmers in Oregon make a living in the complex global marketplace.

“I am very honored by this award. With my background, I realize how important the fruit industry is to a healthy economy in this region,” Walden said.

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