"This is why you play the games" — John Masswohl on the start of NAFTA talks


Trade and market access are always major topics at cattle industry meetings, but with the renegotiation of NAFTA becoming reality, there was a little extra emphasis on the politics of trade this week at the Canadian Beef Industry Conference in Calgary.

If there were any questions about how unified cattle producer groups from Canada, the U.S. and Mexico are in their message about how beneficial NAFTA has been for the industry, trade officials from the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, the U.S. National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, as well as Mexico’s cattle producer group, were in Alberta to talk about it before heading to Washington for the weekend when agriculture is expected to make the agenda.

And while NAFTA has been “very good” for the beef industry, there are a few regulatory issues that the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association is asking the Canadian government to address, explains John Masswohl, the CCA’s director of government and international relations.

This list includes lifting the requirement that all cattle exported to the U.S. have to be born after March of 1999, a rule that discounts the value of cull cows in Canada, notes Masswohl. “Pretty much all are, but how do you prove that?”

The USDA and CFIA deem each other’s meat inspection systems as equivalent, but beef going south still gets sampled and inspected at the border.

“A company like Cargill will tell you if they have a customer who’s bought 10 truck loads, they have to ship 11, because they know at least one of them will get opened at tested. They know it’s probably okay, but if they ship it, and it turns out not okay, then they have recall on their hands. If they hold it waiting for the test result, then they’ve lost several days of shelf life,” he explains. “Ultimately the product flows but there’s profitability being siphoned off at the border.”

The U.S. Trade Representative’s objectives included better access to Canadian government buying, which the CCA argues should potentially be reciprocated with U.S. food programs (ie. military and school lunch programs.)

While expressing concern about President Trump’s focus on trade deficits, Masswohl says he’s confident the negotiators understand the value of NAFTA to the beef industry.

“There are good people in there that understand why this is important for Americans to have this deal kept intact. I’m optimistic we’re not going to move backward,” he says.

Masswohl stopped in at the RealAg ‘studio’ at CBIC, where Kelvin asked him the following questions:

  • Thoughts on the negotiations beginning?
  • What are some the things CCA wants changed in NAFTA 2.0?
  • Do expect MCOOL to become part of the talks and will this fight over MCOOL ever go away?
  • Do you and CCA agree with the approach and strategy that the Trudeau government have had heading into the first round of the NAFATA meetings?
  • Is CCA optimistic for agriculture in these negotiations?
  • What do you think President Trump needs in these talks to claim a victory for America?

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