US gets its way with EU quota

US gets its way with EU beef quota

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The deal will effectively end the access that Australia has enjoyed to the EU for high-quality grain-fed beef since 2009.

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IT has been anticipated for the best part of a year and drawn commentary from government and industry alike but now it finally seems to have reached a conclusion.

Formal statements on government and industry sites are yet to appear but representatives from key organisations were quoted by one media outlet on Friday confirming the European Commission (executive arm of EU) has struck a deal to allocate a specific share of its 45,000t high-quality grain-fed beef quota to the United States.

For some the galling part of this development is the apparent complicit nature of government and industry in Australia in the structure of the final deal.

After all, what has been agreed to will effectively end the access that Australia (and other countries) have enjoyed to the EU for high-quality grain-fed beef since 2009.

As it now stands it seems the US will initially receive a country-specific allocation of 18,500t which will progressively rise to 35,000t over seven years.

Those disillusioned with the outcome might argue that Australia should have taken the high moral road and opposed the deal on the grounds that it discriminated against Australia in favour of the US and thus was in breach of WTO (World Trade Organisation) rules.

Whether that would result in a better outcome is a moot point considering the long and protracted nature of a WTO dispute and in the end the extent of any willingness on Australia's part to impose retaliatory tariffs on the EU.

Given Australia is currently trying to negotiate a free trade deal with the EU, the latter course of action would seem to not have a lot going for it.

Also to fully appreciate just where the moral ground actually lies, it may be useful to revisit coverage of this issue provided in this column in October last year.

I explained then that the genesis of the quota dates back to 1988 when Europe banned imports of meat from animals treated with hormonal growth promotants.

This largely affected the US.

The dispute over the matter between Europe and the US simmered for years before the US eventually retaliated with WTO-compliant import tariffs on certain European products.

Another lengthy period elapsed before a compromise was reached and a memorandum of understanding (MoU) struck between Brussels and Washington which resulted in the EU opening its market in 2009 to the sizeable quota of HGP-free grain-fed beef.

That it was open to 'qualified suppliers' rather than specifically allocated to the US was all to do with WTO provisions but essentially the EU was always of the view that the MoU linked the quota as a trade deal between the EU and the US.

Supporting this stance is the fact that other countries (Australia in particular) were not a party to the MoU.

It followed therefore that when the US applied more pressure last year in the form of President Donald Trump's steel and aluminium tariffs and the prospect of tariffs on European motor vehicles, the EU had no hesitation in seeing their way clear to granting the agricultural favour the US sought.

Secretary general of the European Livestock and Meat Trades Union Jean-Luc Mériaux said at the time that Australia, Argentina, Uruguay and New Zealand had increased their share of the quota at the expense of the US and now they would either have to accept a lower level of trade or lose it altogether.

That Australia ultimately agreed with this sentiment is now apparent but there may also be an element of trade reality that influenced the outcome.

While there is significant price incentive to direct product into the EU, the process has been difficult.

Qualifying product must firstly be presented at the EU port of entry.

Importers may then apply for licence and these applications are treated on a first-come-first-served basis. The importer may then bring the product into the EU with no duty payable until the quota is fully taken up.

However the quota year is divided into periods of three months and there is only a short period at the beginning of each quota period to get in.

If you miss out, your product then has to wait for three months and by then it is running out of shelf life and has to be frozen down.

The upshot of this in the Australian context is a short production run once every three months which is far from ideal.

While ever there was no real alternative in the market place it was a case of making the best of the situation but then along came China.

Taking everything from the top end of grain-fed right down to basic manufacturing, China suddenly provided an alternative to the EU high-quality, grain-fed, HGP-free segment.

Presumably with less now at stake, the Australian industry was inclined toward the proposition of getting the best for as long as possible from something that was ultimately not sustainable.

It seems government was happy to take up that approach and now it is a matter of history.

Teys release HGP grids

NOTEWORTHY market development this week is the release by Teys Australia of revised price grids across all of their locations incorporating a premium/discount structure based on HGP usage.

For example their traditional grass-fed grid for Beenleigh was updated on Monday with 4-tooth ox priced at 535c/kg for HGP-free and a 10c/kg discount for HGP-used.

However the spread between free and used is significantly greater in the grain-feds.

Again Monday's Beenleigh grid has HGP-free, 100-day 2-tooth steers at 600c/kg while the HGP-used cattle of same description are listed at 575.

Across the market generally there has been little or no change in pricing as supply positions remain reasonably comfortable for the moment.

From north to south the only significant differential is for cow with heavy descriptions 450-460 in the southern states and 415-425 in southern Queensland.

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