AMERICA’S peak sheep body has decided not to pursue a trade case against lamb importers after receiving legal advice recommending against trade law violation or anti-dumping action.
The American Sheep Industry Association (ASI) is a national organization representing more than 100,000 sheep producers as a federation of 45 state sheep associations and individual members.
The development comes despite the R-CALF USA Sheep Committee continuing to augment its Protect American Lamb project against lamb imports.
An R-CALF petition claims lower cost imports, mostly from Australia and New Zealand, have captured 74 percent of the domestic lamb and mutton market and have decimated the commercial sheep industry in the United States.
In ASI’s December 2023 edition of Sheep Industry News, ASI president Brad Boner said in May, ASI hired a top law firm in Washington, D.C., and agreed to fund preliminary investigations into violations of United States trade law by lamb importers.
“Two cases were recommended: countervailing duty (subsidized production) and anti-dumping (sales below production costs or at prices lower in the United States than in a home market).
“ASI contributed more than $55,000 from the Guard Dog Fund as the executive board met multiple times on the topic,” he said.
Mr Bonner said confidential injury surveys were sent to hundreds of sheep producers, lamb feeders and lamb companies in June and July to provide necessary information for the law firm to consider the possibilities of success in pursuing the case. Thirty-five sheep producers, six lamb feeders and two lamb companies completed the confidential surveys and returned them to the law firm before a deadline.
“The firm – which won a section 201 trade case for ASI in 1999 – found evidence of “material” injury from imports within the last three-year window, but was unable to find significant “dumping” margins, which nullified any potential relief available to the domestic industry,” Mr Bonner said.
“For these reasons, and following the advice of lawyers well-versed in trade law, ASI decided against pursuing the case further at this time.
“Considering the total cost to pursue the case, it didn’t seem prudent to go against the legal opinions of those who are experts in trade law,” Mr Bonner said.
“This was the third trade investigation of lamb imports involving ASI in the past six years.
“The memorandum from the law firm is clear that none of the three United States trade laws provide a successful path to impacting lamb imports or American lamb prices,” he said.
“The memorandum further clarifies that legislating restrictions such as quotas or tariffs via the U.S. Congress is not viable.”
On 11 December, R-CALF said its Protect American Lamb project supplemented its August 3 petition to U.S. Trade Ambassador Katherine Tai asking her to request the U.S. International Trade Commission to conduct a Global Safeguard Investigation for the sheep industry.
The purpose of the investigation would be to determine if imported lamb and mutton are a substantial cause of serious injury to the U.S. sheep industry, R-CALF said.
R-CALF said the supplement includes 16 official resolutions, proclamations, and letters from county governments in seven states urging the US Congress and the administration to take action to halt the injury to the U.S. sheep industry caused by excessive imports, and several county governments further urged the establishment of permanent import relief through the enactment of tariffs and tariff rate quotas. The county governments are in the seven western states of California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, South Dakota, and Utah.
The supplement also includes a resolution from the Utah E&I Conservation District and two resolutions from county Farm Bureau organizations in Utah.
Also included in the supplement is a list of 115 domestic ewe/lamb producers, feeders, and packers from 16 states who endorse the petition. Though their names and contact information are omitted due to confidentiality concerns, the list demonstrates that support for the petition is from domestic sheep producers who together control about 800,000 sheep and lambs, representing over 20% of the U.S. sheep and lamb inventory in the 17 western states.
R-CALF said the supplement follows a bipartisan letter sent to Tai last month urging her to favorably act on the petition for investigation by the R-CALF USA Sheep Committee’s Protect American Lamb project.
R-CALF USA chief executive officer Bill Bullard said the US sheep industry is now at the breaking point due to excessive imports and because of the sheep industry’s similarity to the cattle industry, in terms of biological characteristics and market structure, the sheep industry is the cattle industry’s canary in the coal mine.
“Where the sheep industry goes, the cattle industry will follow,” Mr Bullard said.
He said the requested investigation is critical as it will help establish the fact that unless some form of quantity control is established by Congress and the Administration, “Unlimited imports can and will destroy our nation’s vital animal protein supply chains, putting America’s food security at high risk.”
Ranchers Cattlemen Action Legal Fund United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF USA) is the largest producer-only cattle trade association in the United States. It is a national, non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring the continued profitability and viability of the U.S. cattle and sheep industries.