As the Trump Administration presses ahead with ambitious trade policy pursuits, the economic fortunes of cattlemen and cattlewomen are on the line. The President has notched a few recent wins, from modernizing the Korea-U.S. Trade Agreement (KORUS), landing a new North American trade deal, and launching bilateral trade talks with Japan. Forceful negotiating tactics are bearing fruit, but now is not the time to ease up. We cannot afford to the let the opportunity to secure high-standard agreements with key trading partners pass us by.
According to the U.S. Meat Export Federation, beef exports add over $300 of value per head of finished cattle. That is a major benefit that helps producers and every segment of the supply chain stay profitable. Unfortunately, a great wall of trade barriers prevents U.S. beef producers from reaching their full potential in markets around the world.
China and the European Union (EU) are two examples of protectionist markets that continue to impose unscientific restrictions on U.S. beef, specifically U.S. beef from cattle raised using growth-promotants such as implanted hormones. These safe and widely-used technologies have been approved for use in U.S. beef production since the 1950s. Governments around the world and the international scientific community recognize growth-promotants as safe. China and the EU maintain their bans nonetheless. As a result, only a small number of cattle in the U.S. beef herd are currently eligible for export to these markets.
Unfortunately, U.S. beef is not alone in the battle to tear down the great wall of trade barriers. Across the entire U.S. agricultural sector, from genetically modified organisms to geographic indications, there are numerous examples of U.S. commodities that have been mistreated and unjustly restricted by other countries. The wounds of this abuse are evident in the lost sales, lost profits, and failed family businesses that come at the hands of such protectionist policies. For many years America’s farmers and ranchers have fought alongside our government to push back on these abuses and try to level the playing field—but there is still a long way to go before trade is truly fair.
Over the past two years, the Trump Administration has vigorously stepped up the pressure on our trading partners to address such egregious violations of international trade norms. Despite unjustified retaliation from these countries and fierce domestic criticism, President Trump maintained his resolve. Now, instead of tariffs, many U.S. producers are facing the prospect of increased market access in North America and the Asia-Pacific region.
Some trading partners continue to inflict pain on American farmers and ranchers as a means of exerting political pressure on President Trump. They hoped that American agriculture would help their efforts by condemning the President’s actions, and that is exactly what some groups in the agriculture community have done. That is their right. But the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) has chosen not to join in the criticism, and instead focus on fighting the injustices we face at the hands of other governments. We may not agree on some of the tactics of the Trump Administration, but we whole-heartedly support the mission. We continue to stand behind the Trump Administration’s firm approach to tearing down trade barriers.
Of course, NCBA remains concerned about the impacts of retaliatory tariffs on the U.S. beef industry. We will never shy away from explaining the costs tariffs impose on U.S. producers—and yes, tariffs are taxes on producers and consumers. But we are willing to accept short-term pain for long-term gain.
As history has taught us, open markets and science-based trade are the key ingredients for export success in the U.S. beef industry. Once passed, the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement will build on over two decades of unrestricted, science-based, duty free trade for U.S. beef in North America. The results have been outstanding: Today the U.S. exports around $2 billion worth of beef to Canada and Mexico each year.
Similarly, KORUS reduced tariffs on U.S. beef exports and removed many trade restrictions. Our sales have sky-rocketed under KORUS. Global retail giant Costco, who previously sourced Australian beef for their stores in South Korea, is now importing every single ounce of their chilled beef from the United States. Some aspects of previous trade agreements were in serious need of modernization, but the established framework for beef trade works remarkably well.
NCBA will continue to work with the Trump Administration to address persistent trade barriers that restrict U.S. beef exports. Together we can seize this historic opportunity to secure meaningful market access for U.S. beef around the world and make the prospects for cattle producers that much brighter.
About the Author: Kevin Kester currently serves as the President of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. He is fifth-generation rancher from Parkfield, CA, where his family has lived for over 125 years.