November 7, 2011


Hurdles remain for US-China beef talks


The US last month reopened stalled talks with China aimed at easing Beijing's restrictions on imports of US beef and beef products, but so far the two sides have yet to reach an agreement, a USDA spokeswoman said.


The US delegation, which traveled to Beijing the week of October 17, spent more than a full day discussing the US request for beef market access out of a total of three days of meetings with China's Ministry of Agriculture and the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, the spokeswoman said.


The remainder of the time was spent discussing a broad range of agricultural trade issues in preparation for the meetings of the US-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade (JCCT) that are slated to take place later this month in China, according to the spokeswoman. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is planning to attend the JCCT.


The meetings last month represented a resumption of beef market access talks, which were put on hold early this year as the Obama administration focused its efforts on securing congressional approval for the three free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama. Before the talks stalled, the US and China had narrowed down the discussion from 22 Chinese demands to roughly a half dozen of areas of contention, sources said.


During the talks last month, the US exchanged information with China on a new mandatory traceability system for livestock that USDA proposed in August, according to the spokeswoman. China was not aware of the USDA proposal, she added.


The traceability of US beef exports had been one of China's key demands for opening up its market to US beef and beef products, and was included in the list of 22 conditions China floated to US officials last year.

While China had urged the US to put in place a system that allows cattle to be traced back to the farm where they were born, the proposed USDA traceability system would only allow cattle and other livestock to be traced back to their state of origin.


One beef industry source said the mere announcement of the proposed traceability system will not satisfy China's demand on this issue, although the system may once it is fully implemented, which will take several years.


However, the US beef industry does not want China to wait until the traceability system is fully in place before opening its market to US beef, this source said.


Separately, US meat industry groups have pressed Vilsack to make progress at the JCCT on allowing processed poultry imports from China, in hopes that such a tradeoff would enable China to ease its restrictions on US beef, pork and poultry exports. But US consumer health groups have urged USDA to proceed cautiously.


China stopped accepting all cuts of US beef after a case of mad cow disease was reported in Washington state in 2003.

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