U.S. president muses about ban on foreign cattle imports

The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association is monitoring last week’s musings from U.S. President Donald Trump about terminating trade deals that allow cattle to enter that country as a way to help the American beef industry.

CCA executive vice-president Dennis Laycraft said the association made quick contact with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association in the U.S. to address the idea, which would be contrary to beef industry interests.

“We’ve been working with our government and as well through the embassy and we’re also reaching out to the state associations,” said Laycraft. “Anything like that you don’t want to take for granted, particularly in an election year.”

CCA president Bob Lowe also said trade deal changes have disruptive potential for producers on both sides of the international border.

“The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, along with our North American counterparts, is fully committed to continue enhancing the strength of the North American beef industry under the newly negotiated and soon-to-be implemented United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which maintains open and duty-free trade,” Lowe said in a statement.

“For us in the beef industry, we must be able to get each cut of meat to the consumer who is willing to pay top dollar for it. Exporting the cuts of meats that aren’t as valued in Canada as they are in other parts of the world generates an additional $600 per animal for our beef producers. That’s the importance of trade.”

Laycraft added that the CCA is also monitoring perennial threats from some U.S. cattle groups to re-implement country-of-origin labelling, a former program that Canada successfully fought and won through the World Trade Organization in 2015.

“There’s always a risk when people are distracted on another issue that people try and push something through,” said Laycraft.

The U.S. imports cattle from Canada and Mexico to supplement domestic supplies at lower prices and to slaughter in American plants run by companies like Tyson Foods Inc. and JBS USA. Bans could reignite trade disputes.

“I read yesterday where we take some cattle in from other countries. We have trade deals. I think you should look at terminating those deals,” Trump said.

“We have a lot of cattle in this country.”

Trump made the comments at a White House event held to discuss $19 billion in agricultural relief approved by Congress. He did not mention specific trade deals or countries when talking about cattle.

Live cattle imports to the U.S. come only from Mexico and Canada and are allowed under the terms of the newly renegotiated North American trade pact.

“It was something I wish the president hadn’t said,” said Marty Smith, president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, who attended the event.

He said the suggestion may have resulted from a misunderstanding.

Oswaldo Chazaro, head of Mexican cattle confederation CNOG, said that while he respected Trump’s opinion, many years had been spent developing an integrated beef market in which all consumers benefit.

“More thought should be given to keeping this healthy, balanced trade in both directions,” said Chazaro.

He added about 1.2 million Mexican cows were sold to U.S. buyers last year, while Mexican firms are buying growing volumes of U.S. beef.

A potential ban could increase competition for U.S. beef exports if Mexico and Canada keep more cattle at home and process them, said Derrell Peel, livestock marketing specialist at Oklahoma State University.

“Obviously, if we just ban Mexican and Canadian cattle, they’re not going to take that kindly,” Peel said.

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