Maybe we should cut off cattle imports, says Trump

“We have a lot of cattle in this country.”

The U.S. “should look at the possibility of terminating” trade agreements that allow cattle imports into the country, said President Trump on Tuesday — a suggestion that would almost solely affect Canada and Mexico, partners in the USMCA. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association said it would be better to re-examine imports of beef from Brazil and other countries.

“I read yesterday where we take some cattle in from other countries, where we have trade deals. I think you should look at terminating those deals,” said Trump, apparently directing the comments to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue during the announcement of coronavirus aid to farmers. “We have a lot of cattle in this country.”

Trump did not specify which nations he meant. A press aide at the U.S. trade representative’s office was not immediately available to say if the agency would look into cancellation of trade agreements that allow cattle imports or if the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement would be part of any review.

READ MORE: Trump launches coronavirus aid to agriculture, with a $750,000 top payment

Canada and Mexico have been the only countries to ship cattle to U.S. buyers for several years. The USMCA, scheduled to replace NAFTA on July 1, allows free trade in most agricultural commodities among the three nations.

“Today’s comment by President Donald Trump demonstrates the complexity of the U.S. beef business,” said Colin Woodall, chief executive of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. If Trump wants to weigh import rules, said Woodall, “NCBA and its members strongly request the White House to take another look at his decision to allow fresh beef imports from nations like Brazil, where there continue to be concerns about foot-and-mouth disease.”

Cattle imports are a small part of the beef trade. Roughly 1.8 million head were imported into the U.S. from Canada and Mexico in the year ending in March, according to USDA data. Exports totaled 314,000 head during the same period, mostly to the North American neighbors. By comparison, 10% of annual U.S. beef production, around 3 billion pounds, is exported. The U.S. imports a similar amount of beef.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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