Pressure mounts on Mexican border issue

Cattle Market & Farm Reports, Editorials
Oct 1, 2007
by WLJ

—Beef seedstock exports are an important target for producers in border states.

USDA’s recent move toward trade rationalization is likely to be a step in the right direction toward opening live cattle trade with Mexico, the current largest importer of U.S. beef. USDA officials said last week the agency is pressuring Mexican officials to begin allowing beef from older animals and live seedstock and commercial beef animals to be shipped into the country.

Despite the fact that Mexico has already imported more than 370,000 metric tons of beef from the U.S. from animals under 20 months of age, the border has remained closed to live animals since the first case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy was discovered in the U.S. in 2003. Now, U.S. officials say it is time for Mexico to accept the same standards for trade which are in the process of being established between the U.S. and Canada, a move that would benefit producers in the U.S. and Canada alike. To that end, two weeks ago, the director of the Arizona Department of Agriculture, Don Butler, and secretary of agriculture and livestock for Sonora, Mexico, Alejandro Elias Gutierrez, recently signed a joint letter addressed to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns, prior to his resignation, requesting the reinstatement of beef cattle trade between the U.S. and Mexico.

“As co-chairs of the Border Governor’s Conference Agriculture Work Table (AWT), we are writing to express the AWT’s support for reinstatement of beef cattle trade between the United States and Mexico,” wrote Butler and Gutierrez. “This topic has been thoroughly discussed during our AWT meeting with widespread support for restoring trade. We applaud USDA’s efforts in working with Mexico on the implementation of the Breeding Dairy Heifers Final Protocol in October 2006... It is now time to complete the opening of the border to other classes of cattle...We appreciate your prompt attention to this issue and urge you to work aggressively with Mexico to make the full reinstatement of cattle trade a high priority.”

Cattlemen’s groups from U.S. border states have been working for years to restore trade between the two nations and applauded the assistance from governments on both sides of the border.

“This joint effort will assist us greatly in re-opening the Mexican border to the export of live cattle from Arizona into Mexico,” stated Tom Chilton, president of the Arizona Cattle Growers’ Association (ACGA) from Tucson. Chilton went on to say, “The ACGA and its members have been frustrated for the last two years in trying to re-establish a normal trade relationship with Mexico. We raise and provide high quality animals to markets around the world and, hopefully, we will add Mexico to that list again.”

Mexican producers have long had an interest in importing Canadian cattle, which would require trucking through the U.S. However, the U.S. ban on Canadian imports would have jeopardized the flow of Mexican feeder cattle into the southern U.S. The result has been continued stalling by Mexico to remove the blockade on breeding cattle from the U.S. until trade between the U.S. and Canada was normalized.

One significant impact of seedstock trade ban often cited by U.S. producers is the likely decline in the quality of Mexican feeder cattle if producers south of the border are unable to purchase high quality U.S.-bred bulls. That decline in quality could lead to reductions in feed efficiency and quality grade in some southern Plains feeding areas where approximately 1 million head of Mexican cattle are fed annually.

“We have worked jointly with our neighbors in Mexico and resolved many issues surrounding animal health and food safety over the last several years—it is now time to resolve this issue and once again open the Mexican border to our high quality production,” stated Scott Shill, president of the Arizona Cattle Feeders’ Association (ACA) from Yuma. The ACA has worked with Mexico officials and producers to normalize animal health standards and surveillance for a variety of animal diseases over the past 15 years. Shill went on to say, “Arizona’s beef producers were doing $1 million worth of business a week (beef and live cattle trade) prior to this barrier being placed; we look forward to recapturing this important segment of Arizona’s economy.”

Since this Mexican trade barrier was raised, Arizona’s $2.8 billion beef and cattle economy has lost nearly $200 million of business with Mexico.

“Hopefully, this effort is successful and it will end our frustration with a trade barrier that should have been removed two years ago,” said Chilton. — John Robinson, WLJ Editor