Throughout the NAFTA talks there were many things that Canada, Mexico, and the U.S. did not agree on. One of the sectors that was fortunate to have the major check-off organizations on the same page was the beef sector. This cooperation was in place even before the NAFTA talks on issues such as country of origin labelling and defining the definition of meat.
Kevin Kester is the past president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and he believes that the common goals are simple. “Cattle producers across the world all have the same mindset, we all have good products, and we want a level playing field with lower tariffs where possible,” he says.
The ratification of the USMCA in the United States is questionable based on a politically divided congress and how U.S. President Donald Trump deals with the differing sides.
Kester believes, “we are gonna work really hard to get our congress to ratify this treaty. It’s a divided congress, but at the end of the day I think our U.S. government will ratify the deal. But it may require some sidebar notes take to strengthen it from some people’s perspective.”
In terms of trade access to Asia, Canadian and Mexican producers are excited about the improved market access for fresh and frozen beef into the region through the CPTPP. American beef producers have been left out of the deal due to President Trump’s withdraw from the TPP just two days into his administration. Kester says, “With the Obama administration, the TPP was the one thing that we were lock and step on.”
Will Mexico and Canada have an advantage into Japan for a long time? Kester says, “President Trump is not going to change his mind. Ag groups can sit there and complain that the president should change his mind but that is not going to happen.” There is an expectation that the USTR will begin negotiations on a bilateral with Japan in 2019. In the meantime, Canada and Mexico will look to expand their presence in Japan before the U.S. concludes those bilateral talks.
When asked whether we are moving closer to a North American market to compete globally, Kester says, “We have similar feeding systems and genetics, but we will always be friendly competitors.”
With common challenges and common export targets, Canada, U.S. and Mexican beef industries look to get USMCA ratified so that all the focus can be on the export market external of the NAFTA region.
You can hear Shaun Haney’s discussion on trade with Kevin Kester, NCBA past president below