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Bridges, Not Threats, Seen Needed In U. S. Meat Rows

“We have got to build bridges and you don’t do that with threats.”

– PHIL SENG, USMEF

Preventing trade disputes, such as a row with Taiwan on beef and with Russia on chicken and pork, requires greater effort by the U. S. government in understanding the needs of importing countries, the U. S. Meat Export Federation chief executive said Jan. 6.

Washington has often urged countries to buy U. S. beef, pork, and chicken without fully understanding the domestic pressures the foreign leaders face, USMEF CEO Phil Seng told Reuters in an interview.

“We have to give them enough information for them to make a defensible position,” he said. “We have to understand their situation. I think that there are those (in the U. S. government) who want to do something, but are unsure on how to go about it.”

The USMEF is a trade group that works to develop overseas markets for U. S. red meat, such as beef and pork.

Lately, trade disputes involving meat have been common. On Jan. 1, Russia, the largest export market for U. S. poultry, banned all U. S. imports because of a new policy outlawing the U. S. practice of treating the meat with a chlorine wash.

Russia’s worries about the chlorine wash are not new, but the U. S. did little to resolve it, said Seng.

The European Union has also banned for about 12 years imports on poultry from the U. S., which says the wash rids the meat of germs and is safe and that the bans are protectionist.

Taiwan last week reneged on a previous trade agreement and banned U. S. ground beef and offal amid worries about bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). Offal are non-muscle beef cuts such as livers and hearts.

“MORE EXCHANGES”

“We have got to build bridges and you don’t do that with threats. We need more exchanges with the Russians, we need more exchanges with China,” he said.

The U. S. has also urged China to end its six-year-old ban on U. S. beef, also due to BSE worries, and for Japan to relax its restrictions on U. S. beef, but with little success.

South Korea in 2008 agreed to ease restrictions on the U. S. beef it would accept, but later tightened them again in reaction to public protests.

Russia has also banned pork from several U. S. plants due to traces of an antibiotic in the meat. While U. S. trade officials say small amounts of the antibiotic are not harmful, it has been a concern in Russia.

“We have to be more sympathetic to what is going on in these countries. That has been lacking,” said Seng.

Washington has pushed for Japan, which currently accepts U. S. beef from cattle 20 months old or less, to relax or drop that limit. Seng said U. S. trade officials need to understand that Japan wants to open the market gradually rather than all at once.

“The Japanese have been interested in talking with the United States for the last three years,” he said. “My feeling is they already have a process (on how to proceed). We have to go over there and talk.”

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