U.S. cattlemen are big winners in Korea, Mexico trade breakthroughs
by Andy Groseta
There is probably no issue in the beef industry that gives cattlemen more emotional highs and lows than international trade. We know the potential upside of trade is gigantic, with 96 percent of the world’s consumers living outside the United States. This includes a rapidly growing middle class that craves high-quality beef.
At the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), we understand that American consumers always have been - and always will be – the most important market for our product. But with our operating costs at record highs, increased access to international markets is critical to our goal of achieving sustainable, profitable growth for the U.S. cattle industry.
Despite producing the safest and highest-quality beef in the world, we can’t grow these markets without fair terms of trade. For the past five years, we’ve been gradually battling back from our first case of BSE, which literally closed every global market we had. While we are closer and closer to putting BSE in our rear-view mirror, NCBA still works every day to overcome significant trade barriers.
The recent announcement that South Korea will reopen to U.S. beef was very gratifying to NCBA, as we have been working on this issue for a long time. I recently had the privilege of traveling to Korea for the inauguration of President Lee Ming-bak, and had the opportunity to see for myself how American beef is valued by millions of Korean consumers. But even with a willing buyer and a willing seller, politics was getting in the way of trade.
It was certainly tempting to cave in to the so-called conventional wisdom, and agree to less favorable trade terms with Korea. Maybe we should agree to boneless only? Maybe we should agree to beef from cattle 20 months and younger? Maybe universal BSE testing would be the magic bullet that gets us back into Korea?
But in the end, we regained full access by sticking with sound science and the principles of fair trade. The Bush Administration and key members of Congress stuck to their guns and put us over the finish line, and we owe them a big thank you. But the reason the cattle industry enjoys this kind of support and loyalty in Washington, D.C., is the strong and unified voice provided by NCBA members from all across the nation.
Resuming live cattle exports to Mexico was another important victory for NCBA - won on similar principles, and along the same battle lines. Though it posed no threat to our food supply or herd health, it was still a hard decision to open the U.S. border to Canadian breeding stock. But we knew that one of the benefits of this decision would be to regain live cattle access to Mexico – a very important market for many of our seedstock producers. When Mexico engaged in unreasonable delays in reopening its border, NCBA and our border-state affiliates took decisive action. We fought for – and won – fair access to this critical market. Positive results are already being felt by U.S. seedstock producers, as well as Mexican cattlemen looking to grow and improve their herds with high-quality U.S. genetics.
A lot of negative rhetoric is tossed around these days about free trade. I would agree with some of the criticisms of U.S. policy, in that we haven’t always held our trading partners equally accountable by demanding fair, equitable and reciprocal treatment. But the solution isn’t to abandon international trade - it’s to fight for fair terms with every weapon in our arsenal. That’s exactly what NCBA did with regard to beef trade with Korea, and live cattle trade with Mexico. And U.S. cattlemen – now and for many generations to come - are the better for it.
Andy Groseta is a rancher from Cottonwood, Ariz., and president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) is the largest organization representing America’s cattle industry. Initiated in 1898, NCBA is the industry leader in education, influencing public policy to improve producer profitability and in preserving the industry’s heritage and future. Efforts are made possible through membership contributions. To join, contact NCBA at 1-866-BEEF-USA or email@example.com.