Officials in Argentina say they are close to signing an agreement with the U.S. that would allow two-way trade of fresh beef for the first time in nearly two decades.
Reuters reported this week the agreement would simultaneously open beef imports to both countries, according Argentina’s international trade secretary Marisa Bircher. “We are negotiating the reopening to happen over the days ahead,” Bircher told Reuters in an interview. “All the technical and administrative questions have been settled.”
While the potential trade agreement could open up a new destination for U.S. beef, the prospect of more imports to the U.S. would meet resistance from American cattle groups.
United States Cattlemen’s Association President Kenny Graner says while his group supports trade deals, he has concerns with this one. Chief among those concerns is Argentina’s problems with foot and mouth disease.
Bill Bullard, R-CALF USA chief executive told Reuters, “Opening the border to raw beef from Argentina is certain to put downward pressure on U.S. cattle prices, and meat packers will be able to use this cheaper, undifferentiated beef as a direct substitute for beef produced by U.S. cattle producers.”
Bircher told Reuters that Argentina will have a 20,000-tonne limit on its exports to the United States, while there will be no limit on U.S. beef going to Argentina.
U.S. beef passed a bureaucratic hurdle needed to access Argentina last week, according to a notice posted on Wednesday on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service website.
Joe Schuele, spokesman for the U.S. Meat Export Federation, told Reuters before any U.S. beef can be exported to Argentina, meat companies need to register their products, processing plants and labels with Argentina’s National Service for Agrifood Health and Quality. In a statement to Reuters late Monday, Argentina’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed that the USDA had deemed Argentine beef to be in line with U.S. sanitation requirements.
Argentina stopped exporting beef to the U.S. 17 years ago due to U.S. concerns over foot-and-mouth disease. But Bircher said, “We have eliminated that through a vaccine program in our livestock sector.”
The United States produced 11.9 million tonnes of beef last year and exported 1.3 million tonnes, according to USDA data.
Argentina produced 2.8 million tonnes of beef and veal in 2017, exceeding its domestic consumption by 293,000 tonnes in 2017.
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