International regulations for imports and exports affect beef industry
The United States imports and exports many agricultural products, and there are many regulations affecting these sales – some imposed by our country and some by the countries we trade with.
Cheyenne McEndaffer, director of Export Services and Access for the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF), says the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) Export Library is considered the ‘Bible’ of export requirements.
“It is a full compendium and publicly available for anyone to see,” she says. “It lists the regulations for most countries we export to as well as their requirements for us to send product to their country.”
“Canada has some of this information for exports, but they don’t have the export certificates available like we do,” she continues. “Most countries don’t have these requirements publicly available. The United States is pretty open on what our requirements are to ship around the world, so many countries check our list as well.”
All U.S. exporters check this Export Library to know if they can ship a certain type of product, or to see if the U.S. has access to a particular market.
“If there are certain labeling requirements, facility requirements or live animal requirements, these are all listed,” McEndaffer notes. “This is what the FSIS inspector, who signs off on exports, checks to make sure the product complies with regulations.”
“Some listings like Canada or the European Union (EU) are huge, while other listings, like Syria, are minimal,” she says.
There are several ways this information gets listed, McEndaffer explains. First, if our government has a formal access discussion or an export certificate creation discussion with another foreign government.
“This could be initiated by one of the countries – either the U.S. or the other country involved,” she says. “It could also happen through a free trade agreement (FTA) discussion, which is the technical component to export under an FTA.”
“As we find new countries of export interest, if there have not been formal government-to-government discussion on the export certificate, as a trade association or an exporter we may approach the USDA and inquire about export requirements,” McEndaffer continues. “For example, we posed a question to the USDA this last spring for the Faroe Islands, and they reached out to our embassy in Denmark, who then reached out to the government in the Faroe Islands. They confirmed they wanted EU requirements to be followed for any beef shipped there.”
This type of confirmation can be official communication like a government letter or in verbal confirmation. Typically, McEndaffer shares, some type of written communication from the foreign government is required. The USDA updated and created a new listing for the Faroe Islands following the interaction, she notes.
There are many countries listed, and sometimes a few things get missed.
“USDA tries to make the list as comprehensive as possible,” says McEndaffer. “If we notice an issue, we raise a question, and USDA will clarify with the corresponding government to get something back in writing, which is noted in the listing. There are different ways the governments can engage to make sure export requirements are understood by USDA inspectors for export certification.”
The U.S. has always worked toward harmonization of trade regulations.
“The ultimate goal for every market would be the potential to ship from any federally-inspected establishment in the U.S. under the 9060-5 form, which is just the basic export certificate,” explains McEndaffer. “We don’t want additional letterhead certificates with additional attestations to be signed off on for a country. We would not want an export verification program, which would be something the Agricultural Marketing Service also has to certify to, as it goes above and beyond what FSIS would look at from a safety standpoint.”
An example would be countries with outstanding bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) restrictions, a requirement for beef produced from cattle less than 30 months of age.
“All these additions add costs and complications to the process,” says McEndaffer. “Our ultimate goal would be to remove all those additional requirements.”
“Requirements on the live production side include beef being free of growth promotants and the traceability components of the EU program or the feeding component of the Saudi Arabia program. Anything required to be certified on the live side adds complications and makes the product more expensive,” explains McEndaffer.
“To import here, however, we require other countries to follow our E. coli testing and monitoring program, and we have additional requirements,” she says. “We also have to approve the plants shipping into the U.S.”
Each country has the right to stipulate certain requirements for meat coming into their country to protect their own population. Thus, we will never get rid of all the differing requirements, because we also have our own. Any product coming in must meet the same requirements as domestically-produced beef.
The U.S. is slowly making progress, however.
“A lot of our export verification programs were put in to regain access after we lost access due to the 2003 BSE case,” notes McEndaffer. “Now, we have the lowest risk classification for BSE under the World Animal Health Organization and it is easier for our government to negotiate with countries to try to remove some export requirements.”
“It’s really just a step-building process and we try to slowly chip away at these things,” she continues. “This is one function of USMEF. We export to more than 80 markets around the world, and USDA looks to us and other trade associations to prioritize what they need to focus on, since obviously they can’t work on all countries at once.”
“They look to us to see if we should focus on Chinese bilingual labeling or whatever else it might be. With regard to harmonization, we had a big effort with our government to try and align export requirements between Canada and the U.S,” says McEndaffer.
She explains Canada and the U.S. have similar food safety systems and share a lot of companies.
“So, why do we need to put bone-in in a specific position in the product name, going to Canada?” she asks. “There were some unnecessary things over the years, so we worked with the North American Meat Institute in Washington, D.C., and went through the Canadian export library line item by line item and determined the countries could be harmonized. There is no reason for some of these requirements between our two countries. ”
“We spent a lot of time going through the export libraries and had meetings with our government to make sure they were clear on what we were hoping to see come out of that,” McEndaffer says. “We didn’t get all the requirements removed we had hoped to, but in the end, between consolidation of some of the requirements and removal of old ones and alignment of others, the Export Library page went from 28 pages to 13 pages.”
If nothing else, she says, it was made it easier for inspectors who might not be really familiar with the process or any exporter or plant looking into the Canadian market.
“It’s not as overwhelming for them now to look through this information,” she concludes.
Heather Smith Thomas is a corresponding writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.