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International press is on for beef origin labeling as U.S. takes Mexico to WTO over anti-dumping measures

(Tuesday, June 17, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- Canada's case of mad cow disease is increasing pressure for the United States to adopt country-of-origin labeling on beef at the same time that the Bush administration has gone to the World Trade Organization to lodge a complaint over what it calls protectionism by Mexico in its anti-dumping efforts. See the following stories.

U.S. trade partners press for origin labels on beef

1. Jerry Hagstrom, Congress Daily: A case of mad cow disease in Canada appears to be increasing both domestic and international pressure for country-of-origin labeling for U.S. beef.

U.S. export certificates for beef issued by the Agriculture Department's Food Safety and Inspection Service say that beef labeled of U.S. origin may contain Canadian beef.

But the Japanese government has informed the FSIS that it wants a guarantee by July 1 that U.S. beef comes from U.S. animals, not Canadian animals, Oster Dow Jones reported Monday.

The South Korean government had demanded the same assurances effective June 9, but backed down and sent a team of technical experts to the United States for talks with USDA and meat industry officials, ODJ also reported.

Sen. Tim Johnson , D-S.D., wrote Agriculture Secretary Veneman to urge that the USDA maintain a disease-related ban on imports of cattle and beef from Canada until the mandatory country-of-origin labeling law has been implemented. The country-of-origin labeling law was part of the 2002 farm bill and is supposed to be implemented by Oct. 1, 2004.

Senate Minority Leader Daschle also wrote Veneman that he believes the labeling law "can, among other things, serve as an important tool to add to our comprehensive food safety regime" and said he is "hopeful that COOL will be implemented in an efficient, effective and timely fashion, in accordance with the farm bill in a manner that is not cumbersome or expensive for producers."

Daschle also asked Veneman to send Congress a funding request to increase testing for mad cow disease and urged her to "phase in imports" when the border is reopened.

Last week, an international team of experts said that Canadian beef is safe for export, but that cattle must be considered separately because mad cow disease does appear to be prevalent in Canada and the exported cows could become ill.

A Canadian Embassy agriculture official said Monday that Canada "has not made any decisions, but is contemplating them and talking to trading partners."

The official added: "We want to proceed on the basis of science, and science provides a narrow window of opportunity between not moving too fast and not moving too slow. We are presenting the science to trading partners."

National Cattlemen's Beef Association lobbyist Chandler Keys told CongressDaily that his group wants the Agriculture Department to coordinate its reaction to the Canadian situation with Canada's other importers such as Japan and South Korea so that the United States does not become the only importer of Canadian beef.

Advocates of country-of-origin labeling in the Senate held a briefing for Senate staffers Monday, and a similar briefing for House staffers is scheduled today.

2. U.S. Takes Complaint With Mexico to WTO

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Bush administration challenged Mexico's antidumping duties on U.S. beef and white long grain rice exports Monday, filing a complaint with the World Trade Organization.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick said the duties are unfair and violate trade agreements.

``American ranchers and rice farmers expect to have fair market access for their products in Mexico,'' he said.

As part of the trade complaint process, U.S. and Mexican officials will meet to discuss the problem within the next 60 days. If the problem isn't resolved then, the United States will ask the WTO to form a panel to make a decision on the complaint.

U.S. beef exporters have paid duties ranging from 5 percent to 215 percent on certain beef products.

Gregg Doud, economist for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, said only a few, small beef exporters have to pay the duties because they didn't hand over enough information about their prices to Mexico when it began investigating beef dumping in the mid-1990s.

Plants that did share that information don't have to pay the duties, he said.

Still, the situation is ``completely egregious,'' Doud said. ``We're not dumping beef in Mexico.''

The disagreement started in April 2000, when Mexico accused U.S. beef exporters of dumping, or selling their products below market price, and unfairly taking business from Mexican farmers. In June 2002, Mexico accused U.S. exporters of white long grain rice of dumping.

Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman said Mexico should comply with the North American Free Trade Agreement, enacted in 1994.

``Our farmers expect that a deal is a deal and must be lived up to,'' Veneman said.

Last year, Mexico imported $829 million in beef products and $103 million in rice from the United States. It is the largest importer of U.S. rice and the second-largest importers of red meat, behind Japan.

U.S. exporters of white long grain rice have been paying duties of more than 10 percent.

Jim Willis, president of international programs for U.S. Rice Producers, said he hopes the case doesn't grow to include all rice exports.

Right now, Mexico is the biggest buyer of rough rice. Last year, it imported 600,000 metric tons from the United States, Willis said.

``It's hard for me to condemn Mexico when it's our No. 1 customer,'' Willis said. ``I'm hopeful that it can be resolved without it affecting what we've built.''

The U.S. beef industry is arguing against the antidumping duties through a similar complaint brought under the North American Free Trade Agreement. U.S. trade officials said they expect that case will be resolved by the end of August.