WASHINGTON, Feb. 11, 2015 – After a booming 2014 sent profitable shockwaves across the cattle industry, a record 8,200 producers gathered last week in San Antonio to discuss what lies ahead in the coming year.
The Cattle Industry Convention is an annual combined effort of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), Cattlemen’s Beef Board, American National CattleWomen and CattleFax. At the convention, NCBA – the largest contractor to the national beef checkoff – celebrated some late-2014 legislative victories and revamped policy priorities for 2015.
Philip Ellis, a fifth-generation rancher who officially took over the NCBA presidency from Bob McCan at the end of the convention, has said he wants to focus on the three T’s – transportation, trade, and taxes.
In an interview with Agri-Pulse, NCBA CEO Forrest Roberts said issues such as Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) and the Dietary Guidelines process will continue to receive attention, but trade will also play a major role in the organization’s efforts this year. Roberts called the Trans-Pacific Partnership an opportunity that arrives “once in 50 years,” adding that the 40 percent of the global economy represented by the 12 nations in the negotiations includes several key beef markets.
“When we start to look at those major areas of focus between our trading relationships with Canada, with Mexico, with Korea, with Japan, and also at some point, how we better understand how to have legitimate, science-based trading relationships with China, we think those five or six markets are really the key to our future,” Roberts said, adding that he feels Trade Promotion Authority, legislation that would allow a president to negotiate a treaty subject to just an up or down vote in Congress, will be critical to the process.
At the convention, NCBA’s board of directors also approved a draft memorandum of understanding (MOU) developed by a group representing livestock and ag organizations which has been formulating checkoff reforms. The State Federation of Beef Councils, - the group that collects the checkoff- also voted to support the work of the Beef Checkoff Enhancement Working Group (BCEWG) and to continue as a part of the process.
McCan said there was “very little dissension” regarding the MOU at the regional meetings held at the convention and there was an “overwhelming consensus of approval” from NCBA membership. While there are still several groups yet to vote on the MOU, he’s confident that negotiations can move onward.
“It’s been a very long process,” McCan said. “We’ve really come to some good compromise. It took a long time, but it was well worth the effort. I think within the next few months, we’re going to be able to see something going forward.”
McCan said when Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced his intention to create a parallel checkoff in September, the working group was really kicked into gear. That motivation allowed the BCEWG to work through some of the stalemates that had mired the process. “That was a pretty tough move that the secretary did, and it was kind of a threatening move to our whole industry, so I think people stood up, paid attention, and said ‘We need to get this done.’”
NCBA staff also discussed plans to fight mandatory country-of-origin labeling (COOL) in Congress. Colin Woodall, NCBA’s chief lobbyist and vice president of government affairs, compared the legislation requiring disclosure of born, raised, and slaughtered information on meat packaging to the Constitution’s 18th Amendment, better known as Prohibition.
“Prohibition was an idea from a segment within our population that thought this was going to be a great idea, and the political environment was one that allowed them to get it through,” Woodall told NCBA members. “Once it got in, the unintended consequences weren’t too palatable, so finally our country repealed prohibition. COOL is a similar story.” Woodall said the pro-trade agenda of the Republican Congress will play very favorably into efforts for repeal, noting that new House Ag Committee Chairman Mike Conaway’s first floor speech as a congressman was calling for COOL repeal. “It’s personal with him, and he wants to get rid of it.”
The World Trade Organization has found that COOL violates international trade regulations and is currently weighing a U.S. appeal of that ruling. If the U.S. loses, Mexico and Canada could impose punitive tariffs.
“We are optimistic that with this new environment that we’re living in, the fact that the WTO is almost through with their process, there’s no more excuses, and that retaliation is imminent, we can get rid of COOL once and for all,” Woodall said, calling rather for a “voluntary program that can support us and also make sure that we are not jeopardizing important international trade relationships that we have.”
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