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US beef chiefs confident of UK trade deal

The US beef industry will experience changes under the Trump administration. John Wilkes spoke about the future with Colin Woodall, chief lobbyist and vice-president of government affairs for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) in Washington DC.

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Like their counterpart in the UK livestock industry, the 240,000 members of the US National Cattlemen’s Beef Association are apprehensive.

 

Promises made to reduce red tape and burdensome bureaucracy inspires euphoria in farming communities on both sides of the Atlantic. However, less restriction is tempered by unease over trade.

 

Colin Woodall said: “When you look at environmental issues, Western rangeland access for cattlemen and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) policy, there will be changes which really help us. The trade component is uncertain now.

 

“The President focused on the manufacturing industry to gain favour in the upper Midwest states. We truly believe he understands the importance of trade to agriculture, but until we start seeing some action it is going to be hard.”

 

Much of the NCBA’s wariness is attributable to President Trump’s withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the impact to the US beef industry.

 

As an example, without agreement on TPP, Australia has a £318,000 per day tariff advantage over the US in beef trade with Japan.

 

Japan imposes a 38.5 per cent tariff on $1.5 billion of US beef import.

 

Under a bilateral trade agreement with Japan, Australia currently benefits from a 30.5 per cent tariff on chilled and 27.5 per cent tariff on frozen product. As of April 1 2017, its tariffs were further reduced to 29.9 per cent and 27.2 per cent respectively.

 

“After April 1 we are even worse off financially compared to Australia,” Mr Woodall added.


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The impact of Article 50

With the recent triggering of Article 50 by the UK Government, the prospect of bilateral trade is positive, he said.

 

“When we look at a possible UK agreement, we get really excited.”

 

The NCBA views the UK as being more approachable than their European counterparts.

 

Mr Woodall said: “Historically we have had a much more fruitful discussion with UK diplomatic staff on US beef trade than with anyone else in the EU.”

 

Now with future negotiations a reality, Mr Woodall said: “We believe this will lead to more productive conversations with the UK.”

Will the UK accept hormone-treated beef?

The NCBA is confident the UK will ultimately accept US beef including meat finished using growth promoters and hormones.

 

Mr Woodall said the NCBA will pursue its stated position during future trade negotiations.

 

He added: “We know the science fully supports production technology we employ here in the US. Before any US/UK negotiations start, our conversations with the US Trade Representative [USTR] will focus on this.

 

“We will need to see where discussions then lead.”

 

Newly-appointed Republican USTR Robert Lighthizer is a seasoned negotiator with a tough reputation. He has been called Trump’s ‘hammer’ on trade.

 

Confidence and belief in science makes NCBA ready to accept and endorse competition in the US domestic beef market.

 

This was evidenced in its decision to push for the BSE Comprehensive Rule to be modernised in 2015 permitting EU beef back into the US after a January 1998 blanket ban on all EU beef exports.

 

Mr Woodall said: “I think this surprised one or two European countries at first, particularly Ireland.

 

“We are definitely not worried about healthy competition. NCBA simply wants to ensure US import protocols are based on sound, internationally accepted scientific principles, just like those we ask other countries to respect for our beef exports.”

USDA funding cuts

The Trump administration has proposed a 21 per cent cut to discretionary funding for the US Department of Agriculture in the 2018 Farm Bill.

 

NCBA is cautious to see if proposed cuts impact meat inspection protocols for the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS).

 

He said the recent Brazilian beef scandal underscored NCBA concerns for continued efficient FSIS monitoring of imported meat in cold storage facilities.

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