Sep 7, 2012

International beef trade was in the news big time last week with Japan inching closer to importing beef from cattle that are under 30 months of age when they have only been accepting beef from cattle under 21 months of age.


Japan banned U.S. beef products just after our first BSE case back in 2003. They took until 2005 to start importing beef from cattle under 21 months. It’s taken nearly 10 years for them to consider accepting the World Organization for Animal Health’s universally accepted standard that beef from cattle under 30 months of age is completely safe to consume. Japan held up the beef trade because they found a dairy cow in their country with BSE that was 21 months of age.

Last week, Japanese reports said that the Japanese government advisory panel was recommending that they start taking under-30-month beef.

The panel of experts was expected to issue a draft report on its recommendations which would be subject to public comment before a final version is sent to the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare.

U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, whose finance committee has jurisdiction over trade, has urged Tokyo to do more to open its market to U.S. beef, particularly if it wants to join talks with the U.S. on a regional free trade pact known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Also, Taiwan’s legislature passed a bill allowing Taiwanese importation of U.S. beef containing minimal traces of ractopamine, a feed additive that stimulates growth.

The ban was a main obstacle to resuming talks on the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement that was suspended in 2007. Taiwan hopes that the talks can pave the way for a free trade pact with the U.S, even though the move could anger China. However, President Ma Ying-Jeou signed a free trade agreement with China and helped calm tension between the two countries. Taiwan also wants to be part of the Trans-Pacific Free Trade Pact that eight other countries are involved in.

And it looks like Argentina has a beef with the U.S. for not importing any Argentinian beef products. Argentina has notified the World Trade Organization (WTO) that they are requesting a consultation with the U.S. on measures applied to the imports of Argentinian meat and animal products.

Argentina is known to have hoof-and-mouth disease but they told WTO that there is no scientific justification to keep them out of the U.S. market over sanitary issues. But no one really wants to do business with Argentina as they are known as a chronic rule breaker by the G20 nations, especially after they staged the world’s largest debt default in 2002. They are locked out of global credit markets and rely on exports to get hard currency.

And they don’t seem to play fair trade. While the U.S. has imported $1.64 billion in agricultural products from Argentina, they have only imported $153 million in U.S. ag products. Also, the European Union filed a complaint against Argentina last May accusing them of limiting imports and that drew a complaint from Argentina in August for denouncing a de facto prohibition on imports of biodiesel from outside the community.

The U.S. Trade Representative’s office said that the U.S. was disappointed with Argentina’s decision to launch the beef case, which appears to be part of a larger pattern.

We even have our own spat going on with WTO on beef. Last week, R-CALF and a couple other groups filed a suit in Denver Federal Court regarding Country of Origin Labeling (COOL). They claim that WTO doesn’t have the right to interfere with domestic laws of the U.S., referring to the recent WTO ruling that COOL is U.S. law.

R-CALF claims that documents signed by then President Clinton at the Uruguay Round Table agreements support their cause. They also point out that the WTO appellate panel of three judges that included a Mexican lawyer that represented Mexico in trade cases is a conflict of interest in this ruling. It looks like WTO is going to be busy sorting several beef disputes. Most of them are sour grapes from the plaintiffs and more than likely won’t go anywhere, but it is interesting how beef has become a product to go to battle over. Taiwan and Japan are legitimate situations and the WTO isn’t really involved, but these two markets have the ability to move the U.S. beef market and be major consistent customers. — PETE CROW