Bush to Sign Columbia FTA after Bogota Drops Ban on US Beef Imports

8 September 2006

Days after Colombia agreed to drop all mad cow disease-related restrictions on US beef imports, US President George W. Bush notified Congress on 24 August that he would formally sign a free trade agreement (FTA) with the Andean country. The FTA negotiations were largely wrapped up earlier in the year, save for some sticking points primarily related to agriculture trade. Bush is required to notify Congress 90 days before signing trade agreements.

Some 20-odd countries around the world have maintained bans on importing beef from the US since December 2003, when a cow there was found to have bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). Many other governments impose various restrictions on US beef, only opening their markets to specific types of meat from cows under 30 months of age.

In August, Colombia and the US signed side letters to the FTA addressing the issue. A US agriculture spokesperson said that Colombia agreed to accept all beef products from the US, regardless of the age of the animal, so long as they receive formal approval from US food and safety authorities.

Removing barriers to US beef has emerged as a major priority in the US’ trade strategy. Nevertheless, US beef exports remain at little over half their 2003 levels, according to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

Washington has urged countries to open their markets to all US-approved beef that meets World Animal Health Organisation (OIE) standards. US officials expect the OIE to okay their beef products for export. In an April side letter to its own FTA with the US, Peru agreed to import US beef products in accordance with OIE rules.

In bilateral FTA negotiations with Korea, Washington has pushed heavily for a removal of their import ban. Japan, which along with Korea used to be a major market for US beef, has only opened its markets to some kinds of beef from cattle younger than 21 months old. The US has also been urging China to relax its beef import ban, although trade is yet to resume.

The US’ unilateral trade preferences for Andean countries will expire at the end of the year. Exporters from Colombia and Peru risk seeing their access to the US market reduced unless the FTAs enter into force at that time.

ICTSD reporting; “Bush tells Congress will sign Colombia trade pact,” REUTERS, 24 August 2006.

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