A lot of myths and misunderstandings are floating around the countryside regarding the U.S. beef industry and international trade. No doubt trade is a complex and involved subject, and it carries a target that seems to be moving far too fast for some people.

I've recently been subjected to a few instances when awareness of some basic information could have turned a convoluted debate over trade into a productive discussion of the elements at hand. These experiences led me to do some research. Whether you're in favor of trade or not, the following might help out the next time you find yourself engaged in a discourse over trade:

  1. Canada, Australia and New Zealand account for nearly 91% of the beef tonnage and value imported by the U.S. Australia has an annual 378,214 metric tons (mt.) tariff-rate quota (TRQ), and New Zealand has a TRQ of 213,402 mt.

    New Zealand filled its quota in 2000, but it did not quite fill quota during 2001. Australia filled its quota during the week of Dec. 5, 2001, bypassing Canada as the largest supplier of U.S. beef imports in 2001.

  2. Once a country's TRQ is met, suppliers may continue to ship, but they must pay the U.S. treasury a tariff of 26.5% applied to the customs clearing price. If a country is reaching its TRQ, product shipped late in the calendar year is often placed in bonded storage until the next year's TRQ becomes effective and to which the beef is subject.

  3. Because Canada and Mexico are NAFTA trading partners, beef imported to the U.S. from those countries is not subject to TRQs.

    With some exceptions, cooked, canned and processed beef from certified and inspected plants may be imported to the U.S. from all other countries without quota restrictions.

  4. TRQs of 20,000 mt. each limit the imports of fresh and frozen beef into the U.S. from Argentina and Uruguay, even when both countries are free of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD). Both Argentina and Uruguay filled their TRQs in 1999, but neither filled its TRQ in 2000.

  5. Argentina “voluntarily” suspended exports of fresh and frozen beef to the U.S., Canada and Mexico on March 13, 2000, after a bout of FMD outbreaks. All livestock in Argentina are reportedly being vaccinated, and it will likely be a year or more before Argentina again attains FMD-free status without vaccination.

  6. Uruguay also suspended exports of fresh and frozen beef after cases of FMD were reported near the border with Argentina, but it may regain FMD-free status late this year. For now, beef imported from these countries must be cooked, canned or preserved in inspected and certified plants. The same is true for Brazil, which for many years has not been allowed to export fresh, frozen or chilled beef to the U.S.

  7. Brazil's initiative to attain FMD-free status suffered a setback when an outbreak in November 2000 delayed it indefinitely. Brazil has applied for regionalized FMD-free status in two southern states. It's important to note that a NAFTA team completed its evaluation of the bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) status in Brazil in February 2001 and determined that Brazil has no BSE risk.

  8. No matter the country of origin, or ownership, all imported beef and beef products are subject to a beef checkoff collection on a 1$/head carcass weight equivalent at their point of entry into the U.S. A series of formulas in the Beef Act and Order establish the equivalence.

  9. All imported live cattle are subject to $1/head checkoff collections — even if they do not “trade hands” when imported. If they trade hands once they have entered the U.S., an additional $1/head is assessed. Northern-tier ranchers and stockers who pasture cattle in Canada can be required to pay the checkoff twice — once when they re-cross the border, and again when they are sold in the U.S.

  10. At the time of slaughter, packers pay the $1/head checkoff fee for any cattle they have owned for more than 10 days. For imports, this is in addition to the checkoff assessment paid when they cross the border. The Cattlemen's Beef Board (CBB) has the authority to audit packers' records to make certain that assessments are being paid. In fact, CBB has done several such audits to ensure compliance.

    These 10 points certainly won't clear all the haze that often hangs over the trade debate. But hopefully they'll help dilute some of the sophomoric rhetoric being spewed about, unintentionally or otherwise, at meeting halls and coffee shops around the country.