Cablegate: Lifting the Ban On U.S. Beef
061149Z Oct 05
UNCLAS BANGKOK 006386
DEPARTMENT FOR EAP/MLS AND EB
COMMERCE FOR 4430/EAP/MAC/OKSA
STATE PASS TO USTR FOR WEISEL
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EAGR ETRD TH
SUBJECT: LIFTING THE BAN ON U.S. BEEF
1. Summary: Prime Minister Thaksin,s pledge to President
Bush to lift the ban on imports of U.S. beef has filtered
down to the working level for implementation. However, this
is the third time that PM Thaksin has promised to lift the
ban without resolution. Technical requirements still remain
before the ban can be fully lifted, but Embassy continues to
press the issue with high-level RTG officials. End summary.
2. In a September 19 meeting with President Bush, Prime
Minister Thaksin promised that Thailand would lift a ban on
U.S. beef imports that has been in place since a case of BSE
was found in a herd of cattle in Washington state in 2003.
However, PM Thaksin has twice earlier made the same
commitment to Ambassador Boyce, and as yet no concrete action
has been taken.
3. Since the PM made his most recent pledge, Ambassador
Boyce has raised the issue with Foreign Minister Kantathi and
also with Advisor to the PM Pansak Vinyaratn, reminding them
of PM Thaksin,s promise and the need to lift the ban at the
earliest possible time. Each acknowledged the promise and
conceded that action needed to be taken soon. Ag Counselor
has raised the issue at the trade policy level with the MOAC
Permanent Secretary and the lead sanitary and phytosanitary
(SPS) negotiator, as well as at the highest technical level
with the RTG Chief Veterinary Officer. USTR Lead Negotiator
for the Thai-US FTA also raised the issue on the margins of
negotiations in Hawaii during the last week of September.
RTG FTA negotiators promised to follow up on the issue upon
return to Bangkok during the first week of October.
4. Despite the apparent political willingness to proceed
with lifting the ban, technical issues still remain to be
resolved. Agricultural Counselor has met on several
occasions with the Ministry of Agriculture,s (MOAC)
Department of Livestock Development (DLD) to discuss how to
quickly satisfy procedural requirements. Thailand presently
requires that meatpacking plants in all exporting countries
be individually inspected and approved by the MOAC DLD for
health and sanitation before imports can be allowed. The
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will not entertain a
plant-by-plant inspection and approval process, but routinely
welcomes international veterinary officials to audit the U.S.
meat processing system, including the USDA regulatory process
that oversees all commercial meatpacking operations. The MOAC
claims to be prepared to send an inspection team to the U.S.
to examine plants, but insists that USDA first respond to a
questionnaire on beef production and slaughter. As yet the
MOAC has not produced the questionnaire.
5. Ag Counselor explained to MOAC officials that inspecting
the large number of meatpacking plants in the U.S. was not
feasible and encouraged the MOAC to waive the inspection
requirement and consider instead a review of the U.S.
inspection system at large and its ability to guarantee that
U.S. beef exports meet Thai health safety standards. It is
worthwhile noting that USDA inspectors recently concluded an
audit of the Thai poultry system, not a plant-by-plant
approval, giving the RTG veterinary officials a first-hand
opportunity to see how a system audit can adequately address
food safety and sanitary concerns.
6. Visiting members of the U.S. Meat Export Federation met
October 5 with representatives from MOAC,s Department of
Livestock Development to discuss the proposed inspection tour
to the U.S. Although the Prime Minister,s promise to lift
the ban seems to have put new life into discussions with
MOAC, DLD officials did not commit to a date for the
inspection tour. Ag Counselor attributed some of MOAC,s
hesitancy on the issue to the lack of expertise within the
Ministry on beef. Thailand is a very small scale producer of
beef and officials responsible for food safety are simply not
familiar with beef production methods and safety issues in
the industry, including BSE.
7. Comment: Health and Human Services Secretary Leavitt,
accompanied by USDA Undersecretary Butler, will be meeting
Thai officials, including the Deputy Minister of Agriculture,
on October 10 and will again raise the beef issue. Every
senior official who we have approached regarding this matter
has assured us that it will be resolved soon. We will
continue to press at all levels to ensure that the ban is
lifted while recognizing that the Thai bureaucracy often
moves at a deliberate pace. End comment.