Argentina, in yet another show of good will towards the U.S., has offered to lift its longstanding ban on U.S. beef as negotiators for the two countries look for ways to bring down another trade barrier.

Fernando Oris de Roa, Argentina’s ambassador to the U.S., and several aides visited USDA this week to discuss the process for lifting the ban, Argentine government officials told Agri-Pulse.

De Roa did not confirm that beef was on the menu for the talks, but he did tell Agri-Pulse that increasing trade ties between the two countries is a priority for the South American country.

The U.S. and Argentina have grown closer since President Donald Trump and Argentine President Mauricio Macri talked by phone last year and Trump said he supported lifting a ban on Argentina’s lemons.

Many in the U.S. citrus industry opposed allowing in the Argentine lemons because the country has a history of dealing with pests that carry diseases like citrus black spot, but USDA issued a final rule in April to lift the ban. That same month the USDA and U.S. Trade Representative announced that Argentina had lifted its ban on U.S. pork.

“This effort demonstrates the Trump administration’s continued commitment to address foreign trade barriers to American agriculture exports,” USTR Robert Lighthizer said about the pork decision.

Argentina’s latest overture continues the trend of openness and may have been spurred by USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue, who has met at least twice this year with Argentine Agriculture Minister Luis Miguel Etchevehere. They met first in Perdue’s office at USDA headquarters and then they conferred in Buenos Aires (as pictured above) when Perdue attended a G20 summit in July.

“The relationship between the two nations presents an opportunity for expanded trade,” a USDA spokesman told Agri-Pulse after the meeting in Washington.

Separately, a USDA spokeswoman confirmed that Perdue brought up the subject of beef trade with Etchevehere when they met in Buenos Aires.

“Secretary Perdue and Agriculture Minister Etchevehere met last month in Argentina where they discussed the importance of fair and reciprocal trade between both nations,” the spokeswoman said. “We are working tirelessly to remove unjustified barriers to U.S. agricultural exports and we hope to open the Argentine beef market as soon as possible.”

Argentina, a major beef producing and exporting country, is not likely to import much if the country follows through on its offer to lift its ban, but the action would further support USDA’s insistence that bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) does not present a threat to U.S. beef safety.

Just last month the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service discovered a case of BSE, more commonly known as mad cow disease, in a cow in Florida. It was the sixth case of the disease confirmed in the U.S. since 2003, when many nations instituted bans on U.S. beef and beef products.

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Tests showed that the recent case was the rare "atypical" type of BSE that is believed to develop randomly in cows. The detection was the first in the U.S. since July of last year.

“The United States has a longstanding system of interlocking safeguards against BSE that protects public and animal health in the United States, the most important of which is the removal of specified risk materials - or the parts of an animal that would contain BSE should an animal have the disease - from all animals presented for slaughter,” USDA said in a statement last month.

As to Argentina’s demand for imported beef, there isn’t much. The country is expected to produce and export more beef next year than it has since 2009, according to a new analysis by USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service.

Argentina is expected to import a scant 343 metric tons of beef in 2019, and much of that will come from nearby Brazil or Uruguay, FAS says in the report. Meanwhile, Argentina is forecast to produce 3 million tons and export 575,000 tons.

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