Canada manages to reopen exports to China of beef, tallow

By TIM HEARDEN

Capital Press

Does Canada's recently announced beef trade deal with China portend a warning for the United States?

Steve Foglesong, president of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, believes it does.

The U.S. effort in the past few years to reopen the Chinese market to American beef has been "poor at best," Foglesong said. This caused the U.S. to be outpaced by competing nations and put American jobs and market share at risk.

"I can't be negative to the Canadians -- they got somebody to get on the stick and do the job," Foglesong said. "We send people to D.C. to represent us and it galls me. ... We've got the same status as Canada and they're sending product to China? Who's looking out for our interests?"

China has been closed to U.S. and Canadian beef imports since an outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy in 2003.

A deal announced June 25 reopens the Chinese market to Canadian beef products on a staged approach, beginning with boneless beef derived from animals under 30 months of age as well as beef tallow for industrial use, according to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper's office.

The U.S. may begin talks with China soon after receiving a letter from Wei Chuazhong, a vice minister at China's quality inspection agency, that expressed an interest in lifting restrictions, Bloomberg Businessweek has reported.

The U.S. Meat Export Federation, which estimates the value of the China market for U.S. beef exports would be close to $200 million, sees the Canadian deal as a sign of a warming political relationship between those two nations.

Jim Herlihy, a USMEF spokesman, stops short of calling the deal a warning for Americans when it comes to trade.

"It certainly is an accomplishment for the Canadian beef industry, a significant step on their behalf," Herlihy said. "I know the U.S. government is talking with China. I think it's certainly our hope that we will be seeing progress toward an expanded access."

Still, the deal is more evidence that the U.S.'s closest competitors are gaining an upper hand while access to some of America's more lucrative potential export venues has remained blocked.

This spring, U.S. Sens. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., and Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., pressed Japan to ease restrictions on imports that cost the American beef industry an estimated $1.4 billion a year, and urged the Obama administration to pick up the pace of negotiations.

A proposed free trade agreement with South Korea that would lower tariffs on beef and other products has languished, depriving U.S. producers of an opportunity to take advantage of a downturn in beef production in Australia, NCBA chief economist Gregg Doud has said.

President Barack Obama maintains he's committed to the deal, and he recently called for new discussions with South Korea to resolve differences before the G-20 meeting in that country in November.

"Talk is cheap," Foglesong said. "It is high time for action. Farmers and ranchers need a break here ... They're getting beat up on the regulation side. It's high time the government help move some product out of the country."

Online

National Cattlemen's Beef Association: http://beefusa.org

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