FACT CHECK: Trump Admin Takes Credit For Opening Brazil To American Beef

David Sivak | Fact Check Editor

Vice President Mike Pence claimed recently that the Trump administration had opened up Brazil to imports of U.S. beef.

Verdict: False

Brazil agreed to open its market in August 2016 as part of a larger push by the Obama administration to sell American beef abroad. The first shipment to Brazil happened nine months later under the Trump administration.

Fact Check:

Pence gave a speech in Tennessee on July 21 to tout the accomplishments of the Trump administration. “I think there’s only one way you can sum up the last 18 months: It’s been a year and a half of action,” he said to an audience at Lee University.

A signature focus of the Trump administration has been “fair and reciprocal” trade, and the threat of an escalating trade war has left some American farmers unsettled. The White House sought to allay concerns Tuesday by announcing up to $12 billion in emergency relief for American farmers who could be impacted by tit-for-tat tariffs with countries like China.

Pence said that President Donald Trump has “always got farmers on his mind,” and gave a few examples to illustrate his point. “We made significant progress renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement. We’ve opened Argentina to pork, Vietnam to corn and wheat, Brazil to American beef,” he said.

Pence is right on three counts: the U.S. has made headway renegotiating the 1993 trade pact with Canada and Mexico, and the Trump administration recently opened up markets in Argentina and Vietnam.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced in April that Argentina would accept American pork for the first time in 26 years, and the agency resolved a brief trade dispute with Vietnam in 2017 that allowed for the export of corn and wheat.

But the fourth trade deal Pence cited – the opening of Brazil to American beef – happened under the Obama administration.

At least 70 countries, including Brazil, banned or restricted the import of U.S. beef after a 2003 case of mad cow disease in Washington state – the first case ever reported in the U.S. American cattle farmers regained access to their largest foreign markets – Canada, Mexico, Japan and South Korea – over the following years, but the Obama administration made a concerted effort to open up markets in other countries.

The USDA successfully lobbied the World Organization for Animal Health in 2013 to upgrade its assessment for mad cow disease in the U.S. to “negligible risk,” and the agency put new trade standards in place to convey that it was serious about food safety.

“Making these changes will further demonstrate to our trading partners our commitment to international standards and sound science, and we are hopeful it will help open new markets and remove remaining restrictions on U.S. products,” a USDA official said after the rules were finalized.

The agency announced that Brazil had agreed to lift its restrictions on American beef in August 2016, adding that 15 other countries had done so over the last year-and-a-half. “The Brazilian agreement is just the latest example of USDA’s ongoing efforts to knock down barriers to U.S. exports,” read the press release.

Although reports at the time said that it would take 90 days for exports to resume once paperwork was completed, it wasn’t until May 2017 that the U.S. sent its first shipment of beef.

Health and safety concerns are a common reason to block the trade of agricultural goods. In fact, Brazil, which has a major cattle ranching economy, had previously lost access to the U.S. market for fresh beef due to outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease among Brazilian cattle.

The country’s decision to open up its market was overshadowed by news that trade would be reciprocal – Brazil could now sell fresh beef to the U.S. as well. American cattle ranchers feared that the disease – which humans rarely contract, but is highly contagious in cattle – could spread to the U.S.

“We cannot afford to jeopardize our nation’s livestock herds, which are the foundation of our global food supply, before all the possible risks to animal health and food safety have been properly addressed,” Tracy Brunner, president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, told The Wall Street Journal.

The U.S. suspended imports of fresh beef from Brazil less than a year later amid safety concerns and a corruption scandal. Dozens of Brazilian inspectors were accused of falsifying sanitation permits and accepting bribes to allow the sale of expired and salmonella-tainted meats.

A major Brazilian meat distributor said it expected exports to resume in early 2018, but the USDA has yet to announce a policy change.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

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Published: Sunday, July 29, 2018

David Sivak

Fact Check Editor
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