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Mexico, US Reach Ground Rules on US Beef Imports - 2004-02-20


Mexico's agriculture minister says U.S. beef will be imported again very soon, following the discovery of mad cow disease in the United States. But he says Mexico will only accept U.S. beef when a list of safety requirements has been fulfilled.

Mexico suspended the importation of beef from the United States just before Christmas, following the discovery of mad cow disease in the U.S. state of Wasington. This swiftly prompted a meeting between agriculture ministers of both countries, who've agreed to create a set of ground rules to rectify the situation.

These conditions include: totally excluding all cattle that are not in the main food chain, only exporting those under 30 months of age, and removing all risk material from their carcasses. There will also be a comprehensive plan to trace all cattle from birth to the dinner plate.

Mexican Agriculture Minister Javier Usabiaga said that when this is properly verified, then there will be a rapid approval for the resumption of beef purchases. "Very, very soon," he said. "As soon as we have the certificates issued and we have the certainty and the guarantee of the U.S. government that the measures that were announced are already implemented, then it's a green light."

Senior agricultural attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, David Williams, said prompt bilateral team work is resolving this issue. "Mexico has been very constructive ever since the beginning of this process in working with us and cooperating with us," he said, "and essentially what they have given us is a check list of what they have needed to see and what they have needed to have done, prior to them making a decision about them opening the market.

"And really what we have been doing since early January," continued Mr. Williams, "is working through that check list with them, verifying that controls that we have announced, are in fact in place, having technical visits to beef plants in the United States and now we are really just working through some of the final details of this check list."

The real question is not if, but when, properly inspected beef imports will resume, and Mr. Usabiaga said the ball is now firmly in the U.S. court.

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