U. S. Seeks Consistency In Beef Trade: Chief Negotiator – for Aug. 2, 2010

The United States will seek a beef trade agreement with China that goes beyond the deal that Canada last month agreed to accept from Beijing, the chief U. S. agricultural negotiator said July 19.

China has banned Canadian and U. S. beef since 2003, when the two nations reported their first cases of mad cow disease.

China agreed last month to accept Canadian boneless beef from cattle under 30 months of age, but the United States prefers to have an agreement that at least mirrors its commercial arrangement with South Korea, said Isi Siddiqui, chief farm trade negotiator with the U. S. Trade Representative.

“What they have offered Canada, we could use that right now, but our preference is to have a science-based agreement,” Siddiqui told Reuters on the sidelines of the U. S. Grains Council conference.

“We do not want to sign an agreement which will be Korea minus,” Siddiqui said.

South Korea reopened its market to U. S. beef in 2008, accepting all cuts from cattle under the age of 30 months – not just boneless cuts, as in the Canada-China deal.

“We cannot be sending mixed messages to our markets,” Siddiqui said.

The World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) has categorized both the United States and Canada as having “controlled risk” for mad cow disease – a designation that allows for the safe trade in all beef and cattle under specified conditions.

Washington and Ottawa have argued that Asian countries – which have a range or restrictions on U. S. and Canadian beef – should lift the barriers to comply with the OIE guidance.

President Barack Obama and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak last month set a November deadline to clear up issues stalling the U. S. approval of a pending bilateral free trade agreement, signed three years ago.

One of the top issues to resolve is South Korea’s reluctance to accept more types of U. S. beef.

Korea demand improves

Siddiqui said consumer confidence about U. S. beef has improved in South Korea, and sales have improved sharply.

“The projections are heading in the right direction, so that indicates consumer confidence is increasing,” he said, noting he believes that will help negotiators determine steps to lower the remaining restrictions.

“In the long run, I think we believe we are on the right track,” he said.

U. S. beef producers have complained that Canada has “outpaced and outhustled” the United States in its beef deal with China.

The market could be worth more than $200 million per year and represents one of the largest potential growth markets for the U. S. beef industry, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association has said.

Siddiqui also said officials had also made great strides resolving a poultry trade dispute that had shut U. S. poultry out of Russia, its top export market, starting in January.

The U. S. poultry industry is now processing poultry to meet Russia’s new requirements, Siddiqui said, and the U. S. government plans to provide Russian officials by the end of the week with a list of processing plants that have complied with the new rules.

“Hopefully by the end of this month, we will have shipments going to Russia,” Siddiqui said.

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WedonotwanttosignanagreementwhichwillbeKoreaminus.”

ISI SIDDIQUI

U. S. NEGOTIATOR

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