Nine industry leaders from Mexico’s cattle feeding and cow-calf sectors recently visited Colorado for a comprehensive meeting with the U.S. Meat Export Federation’s (USMEF) Denver-based staff. They also toured all aspects of the U.S. beef production, processing and merchandising systems.

Philip Seng, USMEF president and CEO, and Thad Lively, USMEF senior vice president for trade access, provided the group with an overview of USMEF’s mission and programs, including efforts to build beef demand in Mexico and other key markets. In addition, Erin Daley-Borror, USMEF economist, summarized the global environment for beef, including consumption patterns in key markets and the production challenges facing beef-exporting countries.

“Our relationship and interaction with Mexico’s cattle industry leadership has improved greatly over the years, and this is paying significant dividends for U.S. producers,” Seng said. “For example, last year Mexico dropped anti-dumping duties that had been in place for 10 years on some U.S. beef products, reflecting a more progressive approach on key trade issues. And, of course, Mexico was the first country to reopen to U.S. beef after BSE, and has developed into an exceptional export market for us. We still have some issues to work out on certain products, but the opposition to imports of U.S. beef has greatly diminished.”

Mexico was an $819-million market in 2010, making it the No. 1 international destination for U.S. beef exports. Through April, the pace of this year’s export value is up 27% with exports totaling more than $313 million.

The group also learned about the role and mission of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) from NCBA CEO Forrest Roberts and other senior staff members. And, they heard educational presentations from the International Stockmen’s Educational Foundation and the National Agriculture Statistics Service.

“Our team at NCBA was able to provide the group with a high-level overview of our industry’s research, consumer marketing and government affairs priorities and give them a good feel for each of our program areas,” Roberts said. “We also discussed ways we can further build upon the positive relationship that we have today. We can hold conference calls here and there, but nothing replaces the ability to sit down face-to-face.”

The group got a firsthand look at the U.S. processing industry at the JBS beef plant in Greeley, CO, which is also home to the company’s U.S. headquarters. An overview of the U.S. cattle-feeding system was provided in a tour of the JBS Five Rivers Cattle Feeding feedlot near Kersey, CO. For a perspective on the production of purebred cattle as well as a commercial cow-calf herd, Aristocrat Angus Ranch hosted the group at its operation near Platteville, CO.

Mexico’s retail food sector is becoming larger and more sophisticated every day, so the tours of U.S. retailers held particular interest for these cattle industry leaders. Visits to a wide range of retail outlets and specialty stores provided the group with a snapshot of the latest trends in beef merchandising and consumer demand.

“My colleagues and I are very pleased with our experience here in the U.S.,” said Alvaro Ley Lopez, Mexican Cattle Feeders Association (AMEG) president. “It’s more important than ever that our industries work together on issues where we share a common interest, and absolutely essential that we have a long-term vision that can help all of us improve our business.”

This sentiment was echoed by Seng.

“By working more collaboratively, we can help build demand for beef in Mexico and break down some of the barriers that impede growth of the beef industry,” he said. “When we’re able to do that, producers on both sides of the border benefit greatly.”

The team was accompanied during the week by Chad Russell, USMEF-Mexico regional director; Nelson Huerta, director of technical services; and Alejandra Valdez, technical services manager. Funding support for most aspects of the tour was provided by the USDA Market Access Program (MAP).