US meat producers concerned over trade war

By Ed Zwirn, in New York

- Last updated on GMT

US meat processors looking beyond tariff war
US meat exporters are hoping that the Trump administration’s aggressive trade policy approach towards China will force Beijing to remove non-tariff bureaucratic barriers that depressed sales before this year’s trade war between the two economic giants.

“We’ve already had Chinese tariffs ​[in the past] and the conversation is about more than just discussion of tariffs,”​ said Colin Woodall, vice president of government affairs at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

He stressed that it had only been one year since China allowed the US to resume beef exports following an outbreak of BSE in 2003, a year in which US beef exports to China earned producers US$3bn. Since the ban was lifted in September 2017, these exports have generated only US$70m, an annual figure that could hit US$4bn if both tariffs and non-tariff trade barriers impeding US beef exports to China were eliminated, said Woodall.

Non-tariff barriers include bans on production technologies and growth promoters such as implanted hormones, “which have been used safely for years”​, he argued, expressing hope that the pressure being applied to China by the administration’s tough tariff policies could push Beijing to erase a wider range of trading barriers.

“We are supporting​ [the US tariff moves],” said Woodall. “The talk is of short-term pain for long-term gain and we’re behind that. We’re behind the President.”

The USA pork industry, however, while partly cushioned by subsidies offered by the Trump administration, is nonetheless hurting from deteriorating trade relations between the US and China, said Dave Warner, spokesman for the National Pork Producers Council.

A US$12bn aid package for US farmers, announced in August, includes nearly US$559m of purchases for federal nutrition assistance and child nutrition programmes and US$200m for developing foreign markets. In addition, the package also includes direct payments to farmers, through which pork producers will receive US$8 per pig based on 50% of the number of animals they owned on 1 August.

But, according to Warner, this will only go part of the way toward making up for the loss in trade. “Before all this stuff started with China, we were already faced with a 12% duty, since the US has no trade deal with China, and with the latest developments this will rise to 62%,”​ he said, pointing out that exports to China were already down 10% through July, just as the trade dispute was escalating. Now, said Warner: “We're pretty much not sending anything over there.”

He added: “The US$8 per hog payments are limited to a maximum US$125,000 per farmer, so the larger farms will receive a lower benefit. Producers want to trade.”

Also eager to re-establish trade with China are US poultry producers, but this is not because of the recent tariffs, noted James Sumner, president, USA Poultry & Egg Export Council. “We have been banned from exporting any poultry products to China for thee-and-a-half years, so the situation remains the same… No better, no worse.”

But had the tariffs not been imposed, “we may have had a chance to have had the ban lifted, which Chinese officials contend is in place due to high pathogenic avian influenza”, ​he suggested. “In that all other countries have lifted the ban, we know that it’s actually a political ban that has nothing to do with science.

“Obviously, China is a very important market to our industry and we are hoping that we can regain access in the near future,”​ said Sumner, who added that poultry producers would in the meantime concentrate on opening other markets such as India and Morocco, “which we hope will help provide alternative destinations for our poultry”.

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