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Global beef trade requires an Overview Effect

Progressive Cattleman Editor David Cooper Published on 24 February 2017

“It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn’t feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.”
—Neil Armstrong

American astronauts, from the original Mercury 7 down to the International Space Station crew, have all described experiencing what is known as the Overview Effect.

That is the overwhelming sensation of awe that comes the first time they see planet Earth from a distance. Oddly enough, it’s not just the immense size of a planet that staggers them. It’s the ability to reduce the sight of a celestial body to something more tangible and emotional – that of a world they share with billions of souls.

The same vision has also led our national leaders to strike up deals in the name of greater economic good. We buy and sell goods to our neighbors across the globe because the market demands it. The wealth of nations does not exist in a vacuum but, instead, is vitalized by the bargaining power of both goodwill and good fortune.

The ag and beef industries have prospered by these very same ideals. Japan, Taiwan and Korea can’t get enough of the sirloin, ribeye and even tongue meat from U.S. cattle. Offal and variety meats may not get top dollar here, but in the Middle East, they are a staple worth paying for. We buy cattle from Canada and Mexico, and they buy beef from us.

And the next time you buy a drive-thru burger, you should thank a rancher in Australia or New Zealand. They help fuel our fast food retail success while our beef – still considered the best in the world – grabs even higher dollars on the foreign market.

Confidence in that trade longevity has been shaken of late due to the policies signed by President Trump. Starting with his utterance of “America first” in his inaugural speech, to the exit of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and sharpened threats to dump the North American Free Trade Agreement, Trump isn’t treading lightly.

Many ranchers and farmers apparently agree. In two online polls in, online voters by wide margins were in favor of dumping both TPP and NAFTA.

Not every trade deal works; I get that. And the beef industry must do a better job showing how global trade translates to higher calf prices. But the numbers show trade deals like NAFTA have fueled prosperity for ag producers. Without TPP, Trump must craft bilateral deals with Japan and other nations that preserve our trade success.

The U.S. beef cow inventory will expand for a fourth straight year. This is not the time to abandon a global market ready to buy a growing supply of U.S. beef.

Like Neil Armstrong, we just can’t make simple gestures and make our world disappear. If we do that, we all should feel very, very small.  end mark

David Cooper
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