About 500, mostly Alberta, cattlemen have filed 121 claims under NAFTA seeking at least $325 million in compensation from the U.S. for its May 2003 border closure to Canadian beef and cattle trade, the Seattle Times reports. Alwyn Scott reports the individuals are suing under NAFTA's Chapter 11, which allows firms to claim damages from governments if their laws or actions damage trading partners.

The planned March 7 reopening of the U.S. border to imports of Canadian cattle less than 30 months of age would do nothing to diminish the losses cattlemen say they've suffered so far, the article says. Muscle cuts from cattle less than 30 months of age have been allowed since September 2003.

Todd Weiler, attorney representing the Canadians, says he expects to formally initiate arbitration next month. Arbitration begins the process of setting up a three-member panel of trade lawyers to

The effort is led by a Picture Butte, Alberta-based group called Canadian Cattlemen For Free Trade (CCFT). On its Web site, www.ccft.info/, CCFT maintains that by closing the border and keeping it closed, the U.S. government "arbitrarily created winners and losers in the North American cattle industry."

It goes on to say; "Canadian investors are no longer entitled to access all of the processing facilities they need to use to make their businesses viable. Their U.S. competitors are still able to access those same processing facilities, and the much broader U.S. market that they represent. They are also able to keep their Canadian-origin cattle and send them for processing without difficulty."

The CCFT is inviting other Canadian producers to join the effort, saying claimants need not have exported into the U.S. to qualify.

"You only need to have been hurt by the border closure. As a totally-integrated and highly fluid commodity market, members of the North American cattle industry will generally be affected by any artificial attempt to stop the flow of live cattle trade within the Free Trade Area. Any Canadian investor who has been hurt by the U.S. government's actions should therefore be eligible," the CCFT says.