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President Trump proposes halting US cattle imports to protect ranchers

20 May 2020

President Trump floats terminating trade deals where the US imports cattle in an effort to assist US ranchers negatively impacted by COVID-19.

Reuters reports that the US imports cattle from Mexico and Canada to shore up domestic supplies at lower prices and to slaughter in American processing plants run by industry giants like Tyson Foods and JBS USA. Enacting such a ban could reignite trade disputes.

"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," Trump said. "We have a lot of cattle in this country."

Trump made the comments on 19 May at a White House event held to discuss $19 billion in agricultural relief approved by Congress. He did not mention specific trade deals or countries when talking about cattle.

Live cattle imports come only from Mexico and Canada and are allowed under the terms of Trump's newly renegotiated North American trade pact, USMCA.

"It was something I wish the president hadn't said," said Marty Smith, president of the US National Cattlemen's Beef Association, who attended the event. He added the suggestion may have resulted from a misunderstanding.

Oswaldo Chazaro, head of Mexican cattle confederation CNOG, said that while he respected Trump's opinion, many years had been spent developing an integrated beef market in which all consumers benefit.

"More thought should be given to keeping this healthy, balanced trade in both directions," said Chazaro.

He added about 1.2 million Mexican cows were sold to US buyers last year, while Mexican firms are buying growing volumes of US beef.

A potential ban could increase competition for US beef exports if Mexico and Canada keep more cattle at home and process them, said Derrell Peel, livestock marketing specialist at Oklahoma State University.

"Obviously, if we just ban Mexican and Canadian cattle, they're not going to take that kindly," Peel said.

Mexico's beef industry expects exports to the United States to grow by double digits this year after the pandemic hobbled American meat plants.

Last year, Mexico was the third-biggest foreign beef supplier to the United States, behind Australia and Canada.

In a statement posted on The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association website, the group described US-Canada beef trade as “integral” and “mutually beneficial” to both countries.

Separately, US Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said the Trump administration would provide aid to ranchers who had been forced to euthanize livestock.

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