June 22nd, 2006 04:49 EST
U.S., Japan Reach Agreement on Resumption of Beef Trade By Susan Krause
Washington -- Following months of negotiations, the United States and Japan have reached an agreement that ultimately will lead to the resumption of sales of U.S. beef to Japan, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced June 21.
Officials in Washington and Tokyo discussed the issue in two lengthy videoconference sessions June 20 and June 21.
Japan agreed to reopen its market to U.S. beef after it conducts inspections of 35 U.S. beef-processing plants that are authorized by the U.S. government to export to Japan.
Audit teams of Japanese health and agricultural officials will arrive in the United States during the weekend of June 24-25 to begin inspections of the meatpacking facilities, according to USDA. They are expected to complete their work by July 21. A specific schedule for the inspections has not been established yet.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns welcomed the bilateral agreement but said he would not be satisfied until “U.S. beef is once again accepted in the Japanese market.”
"Japan has been conducting an exhaustive examination to confirm the safety of U.S. beef and these audits must constitute the final step," he said. "We have instituted numerous changes in our system, answered every question posed by Japan, and delivered an abundance of factual, science-based assurances that U.S. beef is safe. It is time for beef trade to resume with Japan."
Upon completion of the audits, Johanns said, the U.S. goal is for all suppliers to be approved at the same time to export to Japan.
"I cannot emphasize strongly enough the importance of Japan recognizing the U.S. food safety inspection system as a single, effective system and acting accordingly in resuming trade," he said.
A LONG-RUNNING DISPUTE
The Japanese government originally banned imports of U.S. beef in December 2003 after the confirmation of a case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, or "mad cow disease") in a single cow of Canadian origin in a U.S. herd. A human variant of the disease has been linked to consumption of contaminated beef.
Japan had been the United States' largest export market for beef, with about $1.4 billion in sales in 2003 before the ban was imposed.
After intensive negotiations, the two countries reached an agreement that partially restored trade in December 2005, with the stipulation that no vertical column material would be contained in U.S. export shipments and that shipments would consist solely of beef and beef products from cows less than 30 months of age. (See related article.)
But Japan reinstated its ban on imports of U.S. beef a month later when it discovered spinal column material in a shipment of veal from a supplier in Brooklyn, New York. (See related article.)
U.S. government officials considered that reaction excessive, and in the current talks sought a commitment that Japan would not block all trade over concerns about particular shipments.
"[M]y expectation is that minor noncompliance issues will not disrupt our entire trading relationship," Johanns said in his June 21 statement. "Instead, Japan has agreed to notify us of such issues and discuss the appropriate course, such as rejection of individual shipments, if appropriate."
FRUSTRATION IN CONGRESS
Members of the United States Senate from agricultural states greeted the agreement cautiously.
In a June 21 news conference, Senator Kent Conrad of North Dakota and Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas, members of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee, said they had introduced legislation that would require the Treasury Department to impose tariffs on Japanese products if Japan does not reopen its market to U.S. beef by August 31.
Also present at the press conference were senators Max Baucus and Conrad Burns of Montana and Senator Ken Salazar of Colorado, co-sponsors of the bipartisan legislation.
The senators expressed frustration at the slow progress so far in resolving the trade dispute, which they say has cost U.S. industry more than $3 billion in sales.
"The job is not done until the beef is moving and shipped to Japan," Roberts said. "We are introducing this bill to really keep their feet to the fire."
"We remember all too well what has happened in the past when assurances were made that [Japan] would open the market in a timely way and more than a year later we were still waiting," Conrad said.
The proposal also will be introduced as an amendment to an existing agricultural appropriations bill, Conrad said. A total of 16 senators have signed on as co-sponsors.
"In my experience, the only thing that gets Japan to change its mind is leverage," Baucus said.
The bill would apply tariffs to Japanese products until the U.S. Trade Representative certifies to Congress that Japan has reopened its market to U.S. beef.
"Our goal is resumption of trade -- not promises that trade may resume," Conrad said in a press release. "We will proceed with our sanctions bill until Japan opens its beef market to fair trade."
The joint press statement on the agreement is available on the U.S. Embassy Tokyo Web site. Johanns' statement is available on the USDA Web site.
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)