Where’s the beef?

Fear and Loathing in Waynesboro column by Chris Graham

“The market is closed.”

That’s the quick rendering from Gregg Doud, the chief economist at the Washington, D.C.,-based National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, regarding the access that U.S. beef producers currently have to the China market.

Which is to say, none.

This would seem to shed some interesting light to a comment made by Tom Sikes, the director of global logistics at Reo Distribution, in reference to a “Fear and Loathing” column from last week, claiming that the folks at Reo are efforting to establish a processing center that would export Augusta County beef to China.

Sikes wrote in his comment to the story “A bill o’ goods” that he has met personally with officials in China who were “very receptive to our inquiries regarding Augusta County farmers, shipping agriculture products to their region.”

I don’t doubt that the officials with whom Sikes had met might have seemed receptive. The problem is that it’s been five years since the Chinese market has been open to U.S. beef, dating back to the 2003 mad-cow scare, and it’s not looking good for things to be opened back up anytime soon.

Government officials in China announced in 2006 their intent to reopen the domestic market to U.S. beef, but the details allowing for the reintroduction of American beef into China have not been worked out. According to Doud, the latest snag holding things up has to do with the insistence of Chinese trade officials that the U.S. agree to the importation of cooked Chinese poultry into the U.S. market. The USDA has given its blessing to the move, but a Connecticut congressman, Rosa DeLauro, has blocked the entry of Chinese poultry into the U.S., citing myriad food-safety concerns.

“We are all paralyzed until this changes,” Doud reported to me in an e-mail answer to a question on the topic.

Now, maybe this gets resolved tomorrow, and Sikes can go about courting his receptive friends in China to buy Augusta County beef products. The use of the word “paralyzed” by Doud might suggest that things aren’t looking good in that respect, of course. As does his comment to me that this is just a point raised by China regarding the reopening of discussions of the general topic. The mind is left to wonder if this is just one of a series of stumbling blocks that could delay the re-entry of U.S. beef into the China market past the point where domestic production in China would render the discussions with the U.S. forever. moot

The question that we have to ask ourselves next, then, is this – are we being sold another bill o’ goods here by the folks at Reo Distribution?

I don’t think so. If I had to venture a guess, I’d come down on the side of Sikes sincerely believing what his Chinese buddies were telling him to be true about what they are portraying as their interest in Augusta County beef products.

No, if you ask me, Sikes wasn’t trying to be deceptive. But I don’t know that blissful ignorance isn’t a lot worse in the grand scheme of things.

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