Billings, Mont. -- In formal comments filed this week, R-CALFUSA urged the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) to reject the proposed free trade agreement (FTA) with Colombia (U.S.-Colombia FTA). A notice and request for comments on the proposed FTA was published in the Federal Register by USTR in July, with comments due September 15.
R-CALF USA's comments state that the U.S.-Colombia FTA should be rejected because the FTA "completely ignores the unique characteristics of the U.S. cattle industry and likely would harm farmers and ranchers, consumers, and the rural communities all across America that are economically dependent on a vibrant U.S. cattle industry." The group argued that the U.S. lacks a national trade policy and the U.S.-Colombia FTA, like previous FTA's and trade policies, would disadvantage U.S. cattle producers.
With the benefit of numerous charts, R-CALF USA's comments show that domestic cattle prices were depressed during the nine-year period when U.S. beef exports were rapidly rising to record levels, and only after the U.S. border was closed to Canadian cattle and beef due to disease problems in 2003 -- and after U.S. beef exports fell to a 19-year low -- did domestic cattle prices rebound. The group asserted that this empirical evidence dispels the industry-led myth that increased exports automatically translate to higher, more sustainable prices for U.S. cattle producers. In its other charts, the group demonstrates that U.S. cattle producers already are overwhelmed by a substantial global trade deficit in cattle and beef, and an even larger trade deficit with the 17 countries that already have FTA's with the U.S. -- FTA countries have generated a U.S. trade deficit that exceeded $2 billion annually for the past 5 years.
"The result of current trade policies is a U.S. cattle industry in crisis -- a shrinking, unhealthy industry that will not long support independent family farmers and ranchers who are being driven out of the industry by the tens of thousands each year," the comments stated. The group asserted that historical data show that the U.S.-Colombia FTA likely would worsen the U.S.' already unacceptable trade deficit in cattle and beef because Colombia is a low-cost producing country with a sizable herd of 27 million cattle -- comparable to Australia's herd size of 28 million cattle -- and Colombia has significant production potential.