WASHINGTON — Concerned that a plan to ban the use of combo bins for U.S. meat exports to Mexico, the outgoing U.S. Department of Agriculture administration is desperately trying to convince trade officials in Mexico to reconsider its plan, according to Dow Jones Newswires.

Under the proposed change in packaging specifications made by Mexican officials, the use of combo bins – the large, cardboard containers that hold approximately 2,000 pounds of fresh meat products used almost universally in the U.S. meat industry – would be banned and all meat products would have to be boxed.

Set to make the packaging rule change by Jan. 30, the U.S. has little time to try and turn this situation around. What’s more, the terms of politically appointed leadership at USDA expires Jan. 16 in preparation for the incoming Obama administration.

Although he is not directly involved in the talks, soon-to-be-departing USDA Deputy Secretary Chuck Conner said he was optimistic and he sees no reason why USDA representatives won't be able to convince Mexico not to reconsider their plans.

Jim Herlihy, vice president of information services with the U.S. Meat Export Federation, said the proposed change would have a very significant impact on shipments of U.S. pork and beef to Mexico. He added the volume of U.S. exports of ham and other pork products for further processing in Mexico could plunge by 80%.

Meanwhile, the National Pork Producers Council has also asked the Mexican government to delay its planned policy. If this planned policy goes through, live hog prices would fall by nearly $6 per head, according to one industry insider. What’s ironic is the U.S. began shipping combo bins of meat to Mexico approximately 15 years ago at the Mexican meat industry’s request. Today, approximately 80% of pork, 70% of poultry and 10% of beef is shipped via combos.

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