Say nothing, R-CALF US lamb import petition is under review

Terry Sim August 21, 2023

An American petition to limit sheep meat imports is under review. Image – R-CALF USA.















AN attempt by American sheep and cattle ranchers to limit Australian and New Zealand lamb imports into the United States has led to a gag on industry comment on the issue.

Sheep Central has been told a petition by the R-CALF USA Sheep Committee to limit lamb and mutton imports is being reviewed by the Office of the United States Trade Representative.

R-CALF USA is a national, non-profit organization, dedicated to ensuring the continued profitability and viability of the US cattle industry and claims to represent “the collective voice of US cattle and sheep producers, in domestic and international trade and marketing issues.”

On 3 August, Protect American Lamb, a project under the auspices of the R-CALF committee, petitioned United States Trade Ambassador Katherine Tai for relief from lamb and mutton imports that the group claimed has decimated the United States commercial sheep industry.

Australian sheep and meat processing bodies, and exporters, have refused to comment on the R-CALF petition. Neither the Australian Meat Industry Council, Sheep Producers Australia nor Meat & Livestock Australia would comment on the petition’s contents or claims, nor on the impact of Australian lamb promotional campaigns in the US, the nation’s lamb consumption levels or market segmentation.

Sheep Producers Australia told Sheep Central that it has been requested that the Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry handle any media requests. The Australian Meat Industry Council and MLA advised Sheep Central to contact the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Major Australian lamb exporters also would not comment on the R-CALF action.

Questions put to DFAT remain unanswered, but a DAFF spokesperson said the department does not limit industry commentary.

“We are working with industry in responding to developments to date,” the spokesperson said.

“The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) is aware that a US sheep industry representative group (R-Calf USA) have requested US trade officials investigate the impact of sheep meat imports on the US domestic sheep industry.

“The United States is one of Australia’s most important trading partners and an important export destination for Australian lamb and mutton worth AUD1.3 billion in 2022,” the spokesperson said.

“DAFF and Australian sheep meat industry bodies are working closely with colleagues in Washington DC to track and respond to developments.

“Australian government officials in Washington will continue to engage with US trade officials as they assess the issues raised by the US sheep industry.”

The DAFF spokesperson said the R-CALF petition is currently being reviewed by the Office of the United States Trade Representative.

“The assessment is in its initial stages, and it is too early to reach any conclusions on what might happen.”

The spokesperson said the Australia-US Free Trade Agreement includes a chapter on Safeguards (chapter 9: It is common for Free Trade Agreements to include information on trade remedies, including safeguards, the spokesperson said.

“DAFF will respond to any developments in the US on this matter if invited to do so by the US Administration as part of its consideration of the petition, including responding to any claims that may be made by the US sheep meat industry.

“Australian government officials in Washington have engaged directly, and will continue to do so, with USTR on this matter.”

The spokesperson said Australia’s agricultural relationship with the US is strong, “based on our joint commitment to free and open global trade underpinned by international trade rules.”

“We continue to work together across a range of international forums to tackle global challenges such as food security including via the adoption of sustainable agricultural production practices.”

The DAFF spokesperson said a similar request (to limit lamb imports) was made by US sheep industry representatives in 1999.

“In that case, the US imposed tariffs on imported lamb meat that Australia and New Zealand opposed through the WTO’s Dispute Settlement processes.

“The WTO found the US had acted contrary to the international trade rules and subsequently repealed the safeguard action,” the spokesperson said.

“Against that background, Australia will consider all options in responding to any developments on this matter.”

New Zealand lamb imports in to the US have also been singled out by the R-CALF petition, but chief executive of the Meat Industry Association of New Zealand Sirma Karapeeva believes there are opportunities for growth in NZ and US lamb.

“While there was an increase in the volume of sheep meat exports in 2021/22, the United States still only accounted for nine percent of New Zealand’s total sheep meat export volume,” she said.

“The export volume over the last 12 months (2022/23) is very similar to previous years.

“Given the scale of the US market, we believe there are opportunities for growth in North America for both New Zealand and US lamb.”


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  1. Matt Arrowsmith, August 25, 2023

    We should really try to protect the domestic sheep industry from this invasion of processed lamb from Australia and New Zealand. The US sheep industry has a better product than Australia and New Zealand. The grazing of sheep in Idaho helps keep down the fuel load for fires. If this industry goes away you will see catastrophic wildfires all over Idaho and other places like Montana, Colorado, New Mexico and California. We need your help in stopping these imports so we can stay viable.

  2. Donald Cameron, August 23, 2023

    Ditch the $400bn US sub contract.

  3. Shirley Auza, August 23, 2023

    The US sheep industry is almost beyond the point of no return to productivity. It’s time the US takes care of Americans first and everyone else second. We must limit imports of lamb into the US and if that means tariffs, so be it. The US should NOT be dependent on other countries for our food supply. Eat American lamb.

  4. Andrew Freshwater, August 22, 2023

    All the conversations I’ve had with US lamb producers and industry in the US show they just want to get some realistic dialogue going and come to a workable solution to ensure more lamb is on the tables of consumers.
    Stop playing politics and stop playing with sheep farmers’ livelihoods; we are getting ripped off in Australia and the reasons given are flimsy at best.

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