Cattle Groups Voice Differing Opinions on Trade Deals

In separate interviews with AgriTalk representatives from two major beef industry organizations discussed major trade deals that have been negotiated recently. ( Farm Journal Media )

U.S. beef producers have experienced some wins and losses in trade depending on your point of view. During separate interviews with AgriTalk representatives from the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association (USCA) and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) offered their organization’s perspective on trade deals.

The U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) has been welcomed by a number of agriculture organizations after it was announced at the start of October. NCBA came out in support of the deal because it maintains the same beef and cattle trade provisions in the current North American Trade Agreement (NAFTA), says Colin Woodall, vice president of government affairs for NCBA.

“We are thrilled with the fact that we were able to maintain no quota and no tariffs. So we truly do have free and full access to Canada and Mexico, which historically have been two of the top five export markets for our product,” Woodall says.

While maintaining access for beef into Canada and Mexico can be seen as a win, USCA wasn’t happy about some elements that were left out of the revised trade deal.

“There are wins. There are wins for dairy. There are wins for the wheat growers. There are wins for other ag producers. When it comes to the U.S. cattlemen or women there isn't much in the agreement,” says Lia Biondo, director of policy and outreach for USCA.

Biondo acknowledges that USCMA or NAFTA 2.0 continues to secure beef trade with Mexico and Canada. “But we’re missing a crucial part of the agreement, which was a lost opportunity to reestablish a country of origin labeling (COOL) program.”

COOL was repealed by Congress in 2016 through an omnibus spending bill after the World Trade Organization (WTO) had said COOL was out of compliance with trade rules. The WTO ruling would have allowed Canada and Mexico to enact retaliatory trade tariffs.

Recently there have been efforts by USCA, the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF USA) and other organizations to reestablish COOL by altering “Product of U.S.A.” rules. NCBA has been against these proposed rule changes and was not in support of COOL being reinstated through USMCA.

“The COOL discussion is no longer philosophical,” Woodall says of COOL. “We tried it. It failed. It cost us money. It almost cost us our access to Canada and Mexico. There was no reason for it to have ever been a part of the discussions with Canada and Mexico in the NAFTA renegotiations.”

NCBA prefers to let the market dictate if beef or other meat is labeled via voluntary programs, rather than making it mandatory.

“When it comes to a marketing program, which is all that COOL is, the federal government is probably the last group that we want marketing our beef,” Woodall says.

USCA maintains that consumers want to have beef labeled with COOL and that it would prevent packers from mislabeling beef as a “Product of U.S.A.”

“We could have avoided a lot of these issues we’re seeing now where meat packers can bring in beef from outside the country, have it undergo a ‘significant transformation,’ which is as insignificant as sticking a knife in it, and then claiming that ‘Made in the U.S.A.’ label,” Biondo says.

Despite the differences on trade when it comes to COOL, both NCBA and USCA have welcomed deals with South Korea and the potential to get better access into markets like Japan.

Listen to thoughts from both USCA’s Biondo and NCBA’s Woodall in their AgriTalk interviews below: