Washington likely to press for opening of beef market

Bangkok Post, 8 August 2005

Washington likely to press for opening of beef market

PHUSADEE ARUNMAS

The United States is very likely to ask Thailand to further open its market for beef under the two countries’ planned free trade area (FTA) agreement, in order to stay competitive rival Australia.

Thailand has agreed to eliminate import tariffs on beef from Australia by 2020 under the Thailand-Australia FTA pact, which took effect on Jan 1. The current 40% tariff will be reduced gradually to give Thai cattle farmers time to adjust, since they currently cannot compete with Australia’s highly efficient beef producers.

Though Washington has yet to explicitly ask for further market access for its livestock, it has shown a strong intention to do so in negotiations to date, according to a source from the Agriculture Ministry.

He noted that US embassy officials in Bangkok had invited ministry officers to inspect meat processing plants in the US in the anticipation that Thailand would issue certificates for their beef.

Thailand currently bans US beef imports due to mad cow disease but Washington has been pressing Thailand, Taiwan and Japan to lift the bans, saying incidences of the disease are extremely rare.

The source, who has taken part in the FTA talks, said that if Thailand were to resume importing US beef, then the US trade negotiators would likely put beef on the list of products slated for tariff reductions under the FTA framework.

The World Organisation for Animal Health, known as the OIE, agreed last May that the US and other beef exporting countries encountering mad cow disease could export their products on the condition that ample scientific proof was provided. For instance, they have to show strong evidence that export products are free from disease carriers.

"Our concern is that the US prefers us to inspect only certain factories because it’s a huge country,"the ministry official said. "But we would like to inspect all exporting factories. That is the same standard [that other countries applied] when Thailand faced the bird flu outbreak."

source: Bangkok Post