Meanwhile, cattle from the 11 higher-risk states may be allowed into Canada if they have resided in a low- or medium-risk state for a minimum of 60 days prior to shipment to Canada.

The news comes after 10 years of efforts initiated by the Montana Stockgrowers Association with support from the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) and the Canadian Cattlemen's Association (CCA). But, while producer-members of the respective associations are pleased with Canada's step forward in achieving equivalency on animal health issues, it might be too little, too late, and have come for the wrong reasons.

Dick Raths, a veterinarian and rancher from Lewistown, MT, pioneered the Northwest Pilot Project and Restricted Feeder Program (RFP) with Canada that paved the way for this week's announcement. Raths says that while recognition of the science in harmonizing trade between the two countries may be seen as welcome news, it's long overdue and certainly won't result in any short-term benefit to U.S. ranchers or Canadian cattle feeders.

"If there is any benefit in this agreement, it's far, far down the road," Raths says. "It's just too late now to do any good."

Demand for U.S. feeder calves since the RFP was initiated in 1998 has been dropping off for a variety of reasons. Not the least of these were severe drought in Canada, increased Canadian calf production and a strengthening Canadian dollar.

Canadian imports of U.S. feeder calves soared to nearly 200,000 head in 1999, topped 220,000 in 2000 but plummeted to 20,000 by 2002. After the bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) case in Canada last May, movement of feeders ground to a standstill.

Now with Canada's cattle industry on the ropes, it's apparent that "politics" were in the mix with regard to this latest announcement.

"We've worked for 10 years to get harmonization of cattle trade based on science," says Raths, past chairman of the MSGA animal health committee. "It's sad that we have to get into an industry-breaking situation to finally get what we wanted in the first place." He says the Canadians are looking for a "lifeline" -- and are using this agreement to help find ways to salvage their industry.

That lifeline is a quid pro quo engagement to allow restoration of live cattle exports to the U.S. following the May 20, 2003, BSE-related border closures, he says.

"We're urging the U.S. to make its decision to reopen the border to Canadian live cattle based on science, and Canada needed to show good faith by adjusting rules to be more science-based, as well," says Arno Doerksen, chair of the CCA Animal Health Committee. "While we're very happy with today's announcement, our efforts aren't over."

Still seeking science-based decisions regarding trade, NCBA continues to make full harmonization with Canada a priority. NCBA will continue to work with USDA and the Canadian Agriculture Minister to ensure an expedited harmonization process, says NCBA chief executive officer Terry Stokes.

He says NCBA will also seek year-round access for breeding cattle. This step will require Canada to recognize the states and regions of the U.S. that have a health status equivalent to Canada. Canadians have assured their commitment to resolving these equivalency issues.

Historically, U.S. feeder cattle imported into Canada during the summer months from all U.S. states had to be tested for anaplasmosis and bluetongue. The cost of the tests made these cattle less competitive in the marketplace, and U.S. cattle producers viewed the testing requirements as an artificial trade barrier not based on science.