Mexico combo packaging negotiations progressing

by Bryan Salvage
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DENVER — Although negotiations between the United States and Mexico on the meat combo packaging issue have shown progress, the U.S. Meat Export Federation said it remains working closely with officials from both governments to reach an acceptable solution.

U.S.M.E.F. relays large quantities of U.S. pork and some U.S. beef are shipped to Mexico in large combo containers, which have proven to be an efficient, effective packaging method. However, Mexico announced in December it intended to ban all incoming meat shipments in combo containers effective Jan. 15. Mexico later revised this policy change by only prohibiting the use of combo containers for frozen meat. Fresh and chilled meats shipped in combo containers are still being accepted in Mexico, but these shipments are scheduled to undergo a change in inspection procedures on April 20.

Under the proposed change, products from the top, bottom and middle of each combo bin would require inspection. Chad Russell, U.S.M.E.F. regional director for Mexico and the Dominican Republic, said this type of inspection creates significant obstacles because of the time and resources required plus the potential for damaging products.

"It would have a huge impact if the Mexicans were to either prohibit the use of combo bins or change the inspection procedures in such a way that it would greatly delay the entry of shipments," Mr. Russell said. "Eighty percent of all pork exported into Mexico is in combo bins and about 10% of all the beef. Combined, Mexico is the largest foreign market for U.S. beef and pork in terms of volume. So it’s very important we get the Mexican government to move off of that initial position."

As U.S.M.E.F. and U.S. trade officials work to postpone the April 20 deadline, they are also working with Mexico’s officials on a more workable solution.

"A team of officials from the Secretary of Agriculture in Mexico visited the U.S. and Canadian borders," Mr. Russell said. "At the borders, the primary focus was to try to observe and learn how the U.S. and Canada inspect combo bins that arrive at the border to enter their respective countries. The U.S.M.E.F. developed a short video showing how combo bins are loaded in the U.S. — and to show that there is really no need to inspect at the bottom, middle and the top of combos."

Mr. Russell added that Mexico could also greatly benefit from an extension of this deadline because preparing for 100% inspection of combo-bin contents will be no easy task.

"If they want to incorporate new technology or equipment in terms of implementing these new inspection procedures, they’ll have to give the inspection points enough time to buy the equipment, have it delivered and do some trial runs before they actually implement it," he added.

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