President Trump: Maybe we should end cattle imports
Trump remarks on imports cause stir among cattle groups
President Donald Trump’s comments critical of cattle imports Tuesday at a White House farmer and rancher event have caused a stir among the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association and the Organization for Competitive Markets.
In the middle of a presentation on the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, Trump seemed to divert from prepared remarks, saying apparently to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, who was standing nearby, “I read yesterday where we take some cattle in from other countries because we have trade deals. I think you should look at terminating those deals. All right? We have trade deals where we actually take in cattle, and we have a lot of cattle in this country. And I think you should look at the possibility of terminating those trade deals. Now, if a country has been a great country and a great ally and a great friend, it’s — you know, you have to do that. But there are some countries that are sending us cattle, for many years, and I think we should look at terminating. We’re very self-sufficient, and we’re becoming more and more self-sufficient. Probably one of the reasons I got elected.”
Later, when a reporter asked him to “talk a little more about this problem,” Trump responded, “Well, we take a — it’s a relatively small number, actually. I heard Sonny speaking about it yesterday. It’s a very small number, but it’s still cattle coming in. We have tremendous amounts of supply, cattle, and — you know, all. But, generally speaking, supply — tremendous supply. Our farmers have done an incredible job.
“And now the distribution is being made much better than it has been. And better — I think it’ll end up being much better than it’s ever been, Zippy,” he said, a reference to American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall, who was present.
Then Trump added, “But I’m saying, ‘Why are we bringing in cattle?’ Old trade deals that were made a long time ago. ‘Why are we bringing in cattle from other countries when we have so much ourselves?’ Now, in some cases — I thought your answer was very good — they’ve been great allies, they’ve been working with us for many years. Sometimes we needed the cattle and sometimes we don’t. It’s — that’s the farming business.
“But I would say, generally speaking, unless this is a country that really has been with us, we shouldn’t be taking their cattle. You know that. OK? And that’s the way we’re going to handle it.”
Later in the day, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) CEO Colin Woodall said, “Today’s comment by President Donald Trump demonstrates the complexity of the U.S. beef business. Live cattle imports to the United States only come from Canada and Mexico and will continue to do so under the terms of the president’s newly negotiated USMCA. America has not imported live cattle from other nations for several years. However, if President Trump is serious about reconsidering import decisions, NCBA and its members strongly request the White House to take another look at his decision to allow fresh beef imports from nations like Brazil, where there continue to be concerns with foot-and-mouth disease and USDA’s decision to reopen the American market to Brazilian beef.
“Beef trade is a complex business, and America’s cattle producers rely on safe and reliable international trading partners, both as a destination for the undervalued cuts we produce here, such as hearts, tongues, and livers, and for importation of lean trim for ground beef production to meet strong consumer demand. Approximately 12% of beef consumed in the U.S. is imported product, but that product must meet the U.S. standards for safety before it is allowed into our market.
“President Trump has shown his willingness to negotiate difficult trade deals and take on tough trading partners, and NCBA thanks him for the attention he has given to beef,” Woodall added. “We encourage him to re-examine the decision to reopen the market to imports from Brazil, Namibia, and any other nation where there are food safety or animal health concerns that could impact American consumers or cattle producers. A re-evaluation of those imports can accomplish his goals of protecting both American cattle producers and American consumer confidence in our own beef supply chain.”
R-CALF USA responded with a news release saying beef imports actually amount to about 18 percent of US beef supply.
But R-CALF USA says that number understates the actual percentage of imported beef consumed in the United States on an annual basis. R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard cited a study published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Economic Research Service (ERS) in 2012 titled “US red meat production from foreign-born animals” that shows that during the decade prior to the study, imports of beef into the United States and beef produced from imported livestock accounted for roughly 18 percent of U.S. beef supplies.
Bullard says that imports derived from imported cattle and beef have been trending upward since 2011 and spiked in 2014 and 2015, which coincided with the drastic collapse of U.S. cattle prices beginning in 2015.
“We find it unconscionable that while America’s independent cattle producers are unable to sell all their slaughter-ready cattle to U.S.-based beef packers, those same beef packers are importing thousands of head of slaughter-ready cattle from Canada, thus depriving America’s cattle producers of access to their own domestic market in this time of crisis,” Bullard concluded.
The U.S. Cattlemen’s Association, which has been critical of cattle imports, noted that it had sent a letter to Perdue in April “requesting the prioritization of U.S. beef and cattle as the nation experiences the impacts of ripe feedyards and decreased slaughtering capacity.”
USCA President Brooke Miller said, “With the weight of the global pandemic putting economic pressure on family farmers and ranchers, we welcome the relief provided through the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program announced [Tuesday]. USCA’s Marketing and Competition Committee is reviewing the details … and will provide our members with additional details and clarification on the process soon.
“Further, we greatly appreciate the president’s comments on the need to stem the influx of imported cattle into this country. Our nation’s strength lies in our ability to produce a safe, abundant, and affordable food supply. We need to preserve this food security by creating opportunities for U.S. agricultural producers to thrive.”
Today, the Organization for Competitive Markets said it had sent Perdue a letter calling on him to follow Trump’s suggestion yesterday to terminate the importation of cattle into the United States.
“While we agree with that strategy, we feel it does not go far enough,” said OCM Interim Executive Director Ben Gotschall. “The U.S. must also ban beef imports, especially beef imported from Brazil. The February 2020 lift of the ban on Brazilian beef imports, which we opposed, was a mistake, and needs to be reversed.
“The market disruption caused by COVID-19 has left cattle producers hurting across the country. Low prices, processing bottlenecks and drought have put unprecedented pressure on American farmers and ranchers,” said Gotschall. “In the absence of country of origin labeling, to continue to allow imported cattle and foreign beef to unfairly compete with domestic producers and products is kicking American ranchers while they are down.”
An USDA spokesman shared the following comments with TSLN, in response to a request to interview Secretary Perdue on this subject;
“America’s cattlemen rely heavily on trade, with 12% of all production being exported. These markets are critical to remain open, to continue the export of both high-quality steaks and parts of the animal that are not consumed in the United States.
“The Trump Administration has an outstanding record of opening up foreign markets to American beef exports. Under President Trump’s leadership, we have reached trade agreements that allow us to export more U.S. beef to places like China, the European Union, Japan, Argentina, South Korea, Thailand, Morocco and Tunisia to name a few.
“President Trump always wants to make sure we are doing everything possible to help our farmers and ranchers succeed, so he is continually – and rightfully – making sure all our existing trade agreements work in their best interests.” F
–The Hagstrom Report, with additions
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Outtagrass Cattle Co. cartoon by Jan Swan Wood for the June 19, 2021, edition of Tri-State Livestock News