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Agriculture officials have beef with Mexico-Canada trade agreement

March 10, 2008

Agriculture officials have beef with Mexico-Canada trade agreement

Staples says pact leaves U.S., Texas cattle producers ’out in the cold’

By Aaron Nelsen/The Brownsville Herald

Mexico and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are negotiating a trade agreement that would presumably pave the way for the export of U.S. breeding stock, according to the Texas Department of Agriculture.

The announcement comes on the heels of a trade agreement last week that includes breeding stock between Mexico and Canada.

The action prompted Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples to block some Canadian cattle from passing through the state’s export facilities and into Mexico.

"It came as quite a shock to learn that Mexico had come to an agreement with Canada," Staples said. "It was egregious to me that could occur and Texas producers not have the same opportunity."

Texas Department of Agriculture learned of the trade agreement after a Canadian producer contacted the El Paso export facility about reserving pen space.

Staples ordered the state’s five export facilities, including Brownsville’s, to immediately stop specific Canadian cattle from entering Mexico, and asked that other border states follow suit.

Arizona and New Mexico issued similar bans later in the week.

Staples described the Mexico-Canada trade agreement political maneuvering.

"Its not based on anything scientific," he said. "It left U.S. and Texas producers out in the cold."

The USDA has not release specifics of the trade talks with Mexico, but did say that negotiations are on-going, according to USDA Spokesperson Rachel Iadicicco.

The Texas Commissioner applauded the move, adding that he hoped the agreement would be broader in scope than the Canadian trade pact.

Under the current trade parameters, Canada and the U.S. aren’t allowed to export breeding stock into Mexico, only dairy heifers under the age of 24 months.

In 2003, the first incident in the U.S. of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, also known as mad cow disease, was reported in a Canadian cow in Washington state.

Subsequently there have been two additional cases of made-cow disease in the United States.

Since then, Mexico has denied breeding stock and older cattle.

Today Canada and the U.S. are classified as a controlled risk country for mad cow disease by the World Organization for Animal Health.

If export activities resumed to their pre-2003 levels at the Brownsville facility the value of cattle exported to Mexico would be $6.5 million, with an economic impact of $14 million, according to TDA.

At all export facilities the value of cattle would be near $50 million with an economic impact of $109 million.

In 2007, Brownsville handled 7,923 animals.

"Why should they disallow cattle from one country that has met these standards and not another?" Staples asked. "It’s a fatal flaw in NAFTA. I believe in free trade, but it must also be fair trade."

 source: Brownsville Herald