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U.S. beef sector tries to hold strength

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The odds seem to be stacked against agriculture. 

One sector though has a couple “bright spots.”

United States Department of Agriculture data indicates April exports of U.S. beef were lower than a year ago. The beef sector, however, clings to recent strides. Jacqui Fatka, policy editor with Farm Futures and Feedstuffs, says beef has “things to celebrate.”

“With all the trade issues agriculture is dealing with, cattle producers are seeing bright spots,” Fatka said. “We’ve seen an increase in exports to key markets and some markets struggling, but potential to see an increase in important ones like Japan and China, if we can get some trade deals with them.”

Japan last month eliminated its long-standing restrictions on U.S. beef exports. Cattle industry experts viewed this as a step in the right direction. However, U.S. beef is believed to be at a disadvantage, due to its exclusion from the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

“When President Trump came into office, that was one of the first actions he took. He took us out of TPP negotiations, and said we will not have anything to do with it. He continues to say that,” Fatka said. “The problem is U.S. beef faces a 37.5-percent tariff on everything. We’re at a disadvantage to those countries who are now part of the deal – Canada, New Zealand and Australia. Some of our big beef market competitors are paying 11-percent rate.”

Fatka acknowledges the desire for a bilateral trade agreement with Japan. But, she reminds producers, “things can only go so quick.” She expects negotiations to last a couple of years before Congress receives an opportunity to vote on the measure.

As for China, U.S. beef made great strides in this market. However, trade tensions halted shipments of the popular protein.

“After President Trump came into office, one of the first things we saw was the Chinese market reopen for U.S. beef. We had started to see an increase in beef exports and then when those tit-for-tat retaliatory tariffs came on, we really hit the brakes on beef demand. Now we’ve seen exports to China down considerably for the year,” Fatka said.