R-CALF USA will urge members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate to vote against the proposed free trade agreement (FTA) with Colombia, due in part to concerns about food safety issues related to imported Colombian beef.

 “The Colombia FTA would limit inspections and safety requirements for food imported into the U.S. from there, as this FTA speeds up the implementation of mechanisms to facilitate trade rules, including ‘equivalence determinations’ that require the U.S. to permit imports of meat and poultry products that do not meet U.S. safety standards,” said R-CALF USA Region VII Director Eric Nelson, who also co-chairs the group’s trade committee.

 “Once the so-called ‘equivalence’ is achieved, Colombian food products to be imported into the U.S. must only meet the standards of the exporting country – not those of the importing country,” Nelson explained.  

Additionally, the Colombia FTA is, essentially, an extension of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) because it continues to treat cattle and beef as if they were storable industrial goods, rather than perishable and cyclical products.

“The ITC (International Trade Commission) and Congress made a mistake in 1993 when they passed NAFTA because they predicted that NAFTA likely would have no impact on the U.S. cattle industry because duties, at that time, were already considered small,” said Nelson. “However, the trade surplus the U.S. had in beef trade between Mexico and Canada soon evaporated, and after 1996, the U.S. experienced persistent beef trade deficits between these two NAFTA countries. By 2005, the deficit had reached $613 million.

 “Another concern is that the U.S. is expected to export to Colombia primarily high quality beef products, while Colombia will be able to send to us beef in which we have no idea what production standards were used,” he pointed out. “As we’ve now learned from importing tainted products from China, the production phase of producing the final food product is crucial to ensuring the products’ wholesomeness, quality and safety. The U.S. inspects only about 11 percent of imported beef, pork and poultry, and we certainly don’t have the resources to ensure that Colombia is not using veterinary drugs, pesticides and feed supplements that are banned here in the United States.”

Additionally, the Colombia FTA’s rule of origin does not require beef to be derived from cattle born, raised and slaughtered in Colombia.

“That means live cattle from surrounding South American countries can be exported to Colombia, slaughtered in Colombia, and the resulting beef would qualify to be exported to the United States,” Nelson said. “The U.S. has the highest production standards in the world and we should be using trade agreements to help elevate the production standards in foreign countries, not lowering our standards simply to facilitate more beef imports into the U.S., as the Colombia FTA would do.

“The Colombia FTA will only worsen what’s already a precarious situation because the goal of this agreement is to facilitate imports into the U.S., which will result not only in an increased food safety risk, but also economic harm to U.S. cattle farmers and ranchers,” Nelson concluded. “R-CALF urges each Representative and each Senator to oppose the Colombia FTA in no uncertain terms. It’s not good for Rural America, and it’s not good for the rest of the U.S.A.”

Source: R-CALF