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Mexico resists pressure to buy U.S. beef

 Mexico resisted U.S. pressure Tuesday to resume imports of U.S. beef, asking for more information about its neighbor’s efforts to prevent the spread of mad cow disease and agreeing to visit counterparts in Washington.
/ Source: Reuters

Mexico resisted U.S. pressure Tuesday to resume imports of U.S. beef, asking for more information about its neighbor’s efforts to prevent the spread of mad cow disease and agreeing to visit counterparts in Washington.

There was no sign that Mexico would soon lift its ban on U.S. beef imports after talks between U.S. and Mexican agriculture officials.

Instead, Mexican officials will travel to the U.S. capital next week to see what steps the United States is taking to prevent the spread of mad cow disease following the identification of a case in Washington state last month.

“We would like the Mexicans to lift the ban, to open the market as quickly as they feel comfortable doing that,” J.B. Penn, an undersecretary for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, told reporters in Mexico City.

Mexico is the second-biggest importer of beef from its northern neighbor, buying almost $1 billion worth of beef and cattle from the United States last year.

The world’s top U.S. beef importer Japan said earlier Tuesday it would keep the ban on U.S. imports, criticizing U.S. efforts to guard against the disease. That helped send cattle prices lower in Chicago.

The U.S. side is trying to persuade Mexico that the first U.S. case of mad cow disease is an isolated incident. But Mexico is seeking more information on six U.S. measures announced by Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman on Dec. 30, including a ban on using sick or crippled “downer” cattle in the human food supply.

“The Agriculture Ministry asked that authorities from the USDA provide additional information concerning the time frame for the six safeguard measures to be implemented and complied with,” Mexico’s agriculture ministry said in a statement.

While Japan could look to countries like Australia as an alternative beef market, Mexico is far more tied to the United States, where it sends about 90 percent of its exports.

The U.S. and Mexican economies have become increasingly integrated since the birth of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994, which also includes Canada.

Borders shut
More than two dozen countries, including Mexico, shut their borders to U.S. cattle and beef imports after U.S. officials said on Dec. 23 that mad cow disease had been discovered in a Washington state dairy cow.

Mexico also halted the import of bone meal, essentially ground-up animal carcasses that many experts believe is the most likely culprit in the spread of mad cow disease.

The USDA wants the Mexicans to see stricter controls the United States has since put in place to prevent mad cow disease.

“We extended an invitation to a technical team from the Mexican agriculture ministry to visit the United States, they accepted our invitation and they will be arriving in Washington on Monday,” said Penn.  

The Mexican domestic beef and related industries appear not to have been affected so far by the ban.

Rafael de Jesus Saavedra, the president of the National Restaurants and Prepared Foods Industry Chamber, said it was probably too early to tell because Mexico’s import ban went into effect during the holiday season, when tradition steers consumers to meats other than beef.