The cattle industry is an intrinsic piece of New Mexico’s history and culture and a vital component of our state’s economy. Spanish explorers brought a small herd of cattle to the upper Rio Grande nearly 500 years ago, and today New Mexico is home to more than 1.6 million head of beef and dairy cattle. Together, they are our state’s most profitable agricultural products.
The coronavirus has impacted nearly all industries and sectors worldwide, and New Mexico’s cattle industry is no exception. As we complied with public health orders, our eating habits changed. Typically, 49% of food products are consumed in the home and 51% is sold to food services, such as restaurants and schools. With restaurants and schools closed, demand plummeted.
New York and the East Coast are the primary markets for New Mexico’s cheese and dairy industry, and virtually overnight milk didn’t have a home.
The beef industry took the next blow. Meat processing plants shut down due to virus outbreaks among workers, stressing the supply chain and making it impossible for ranchers to market their cattle. In fact, processing is expected to be backed up until March 2021.
Fortunately, there is a lifeline that could come in the form of a bilateral trade agreement with Taiwan.
On Aug. 28, Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen announced she will lift restrictions on the importation of U.S. beef more than 30 months old. This is good news for New Mexico’s economic interests.
Taiwan-U.S. relations are at their strongest level in decades. Taiwan is the United States’ ninth-largest trading partner and seventh-largest agriculture export market. Taiwan is also one of New Mexico’s most important investors.
In 2018, Taiwanese manufacturer Admiral Cable committed to investing $50 million in a manufacturing facility in Santa Teresa that will soon be operational and is expected to employ more than 250 people. Other deals involving Taiwanese investment in New Mexico have been brought forward and negotiations are underway.
A trade deal between Taiwan and the U.S. would make economic, strategic and political sense. Deepening trade between Taiwan counters China’s efforts to isolate Taiwan economically and would be meaningful from the perspective of supply chain security in the post-coronavirus world. As a trusted and reliable partner of the U.S., a Taiwan-U.S. trade agreement would further ensure that products ranging from semiconductors to cattle flow directly between our countries.
China claims Taiwan as part of its territory, although the Chinese Communist Party has never governed the island. Nevertheless, before a BTA is signed, the U.S. will have to recognize Taiwan’s sovereignty. The U.S. and Taiwan must also agree to call a tariff truce.
Cattle producers have suffered massive economic damage as a result of the coronavirus. A bilateral trade deal with Taiwan is an exciting opportunity for the U.S. beef industry to expand its reach overseas and level the playing field. I encourage our congressional leaders to embrace a deal that would benefit both countries and save rural America.