U.S. beef exports this year will fall 83 percent below 2003 levels as a number of countries continue to ban shipments due to concerns over mad cow disease, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman said on Wednesday.
In testimony prepared for the House Agriculture Committee, Veneman said hardest hit are U.S. beef and live cattle exports. "Both items remain banned in the majority of the top 10 markets," Veneman said.
In 2003, U.S. beef exports totaled $3.9 billion, including variety and processed meats.
Veneman repeated the hope expressed by another USDA official this week that Japan, the largest foreign buyer of U.S. beef, will allow a "full resumption of trade" later this year.
USDA reported the first U.S. case of mad cow disease on Dec. 23. Dozens of nations cut off imports of U.S. beef in response.
"We are making some progress," Veneman said, in restoring export sales.
Besides more high-level discussions with Japan, Veneman noted that the second largest market for U.S. beef, Mexico, now allows some U.S. beef products.
Veneman and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick were scheduled to testify on a range of agricultural issues before the committee. The hearing comes two days after a World Trade Organization panel declared some domestic U.S. cotton subsidies to be illegal. Neither Veneman nor Zoellick directly addressed the ruling in prepared testimony.