U. S. Ranchers Eye More EU Access For Beef

U. S. ranchers who raise cattle without growth hormones may gain more access to European markets if the United States and European Union settle a beef trade dispute that has lasted more than 20 years, a U. S. industry spokesman said March 16.

But the size of the additional market access has not been determined, and EU concerns about antimicrobial treatments continue to stymie talks, said Gregg Doud, an economist with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

“I certainly at this point in time would not read that to say that we have some sort of agreement. What I would say is that we are hopeful,” Doud said at the Reuters Food and Agriculture Summit in Chicago.

In 1988, the EU banned imports of meat from cattle that were fed growth hormones – a routine practice in the United States, Canada and other countries.

The World Trade Organization has sided with U. S. and Canadian complaints that the ban was not supported by scientific studies, and allowed the countries to apply retaliatory tariffs on certain products.

The U. S. government said last week it would put a month-long hold on ratcheting up sanctions against the EU pending further talks about a possible fix.

European Trade Commissioner Catherine Ashton was slated to talk to counterparts in Washington about the issue this week.

EU sources familiar with the plan said the European Commission is offering to double its preferential quota for U. S. beef imports from 11,500 tonnes – which the United States shares with Canada – in exchange for an end to U. S. sanctions worth about $116.8 million per year.

“The U. S. government has given … a 30-day time period to see if we can reach a resolution after 30 years of arguing with Europe on this issue. We’ll just have to see what evolves here,” Doud said.

The EU bought a total of 20,660 tonnes of U. S. beef in 2008 worth $99.7 million, according to statistics compiled by the U. S. Meat Export Federation.

U. S. ranchers began promoting the concept of expanding market access for beef into the EU a few years ago because the proceeds from U. S. sanctions go to the U. S. Treasury and don’t directly benefit U. S. farmers, Doud said.

The outgoing Bush administration moved in January to rotate the list of sanctions, helping push forward talks, he said.

“We very clearly got the attention of the European Union,” Doud said.

But EU concerns about antimicrobial treatments routinely used on U. S. meat have also stalled progress, he said.

The EU has banned U. S. poultry imports because of the use of chlorine treatments. And U. S. beef carcasses are sprayed with acidic acid to control E. coli bacteria.

“We are absurdly discussing with the Europeans the environmental effects of spraying pickle juice on beef carcasses,” Doud said.

“That leads me to a fair amount of frustration with regards to our abi lity to have a viable trading situation with the Europeans,” he said.

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