Trump threatens live cattle imports, stunning Canada and Mexico

While announcing the details of the new Coronavirus Food Assistance Program to assist livestock and grain producers, U.S. President Donald Trump dropped a shocker on the North American cattle industry.

“I read yesterday where we take some cattle in from other countries, we have trade deals. I think you should look at terminating those deals,” the president said at the White House. “We have a lot of cattle in this country.”

The president later referenced that this would not impact allies which added to the confusion.

The majority of cattle imported into the U.S. are from “allies” Mexico and Canada. The statement left some speculating as to whether President Trump was changing his mind on the USMCA implementation, set for July 1.

“The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA), along with our North American counterparts, is fully committed to continue enhancing the strength of the North American beef industry under the newly negotiated and soon-to-be implemented United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), which maintains open and duty-free trade,” says CCA president, Bob Lowe. “There is no doubt that we have an integral trade relationship with the United States – we are excellent trade partners – in fact, we have the largest two-way beef trade in the world, and it continues to be mutually beneficial.”

There is mounting pressure from U.S. Cattlemen’s Association and R-Calf to reinstate mandatory country of origin labelling (mCOOL) as a protectionist measure which has been fought with opposition from National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and CCA. In terms of live cattle trade, Canada imports U.S. feeders while exporting fat cattle into the Pacific northwest packing plants. Mexico exports upwards of one million feeder cattle into the U.S. per year.

“Although the industry knows the difference between cattle and beef, President Trump may not, which should be concerning to the Canadian beef industry,” says RealAgriculture’s Shaun Haney. “The premise of mCOOL is right in the wheelhouse of the Trump protectionist trade agenda, while limiting live animals would seem less feasible.”

In an AgWeb story, Scott Brown, an economist with the University of Missouri, says, “I’m not sure it’s the best decision that we can make for the industry. I think we need those imports, when you talk about cattle or beef, we also like to talk about products we export back to Mexico and sometimes those are beef products. We wouldn’t want to shut off cattle trade headed from Mexico to then turn around and have beef shut off from us going to Mexico.”

“For us in the beef industry, we must be able to get each cut of meat to the consumer who is willing to pay top dollar for it,” says Lowe. “Exporting the cuts of meats that aren’t as valued in Canada as they are in other parts of the world generates an additional $600 per animal for our beef producers. That’s the importance of trade.”

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