U.S. Welcomes Japan's Move To Lift Ban on Some Beef Imports

By Susan Krause
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington - Agriculture and trade officials in the United States are welcoming Japan's July 27 announcement that it will reopen its markets to some imports of U.S. beef.

"I am pleased that Japan announced today it would resume imports of U.S. beef from cattle 20 months of age or younger," U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns said in a press statement.  "This has been a long process as we've confirmed that our system is in full compliance with Japan's import requirements and provided Japan with clear, scientific data confirming that American beef is extremely safe." 

U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Susan Schwab echoed Johanns' comments in a separate statement, promising to continue working with Japan "to normalize trade in accordance with science-based international guidelines." 

Japan first banned imports of U.S. beef in December 2003 in response to the discovery of a single case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, or mad cow disease) in the United States.  Before imposing the ban, Japan imported $1.4 billion of U.S. beef and beef products in 2003.

The two countries concluded an agreement in December 2005 allowing for resumption of U.S. exports of boneless beef and beef products from animals up to 20 months of age.  But Japan again suspended imports in January after receiving a shipment of veal containing materials that - while not a health risk - did not meet the terms of the agreement. 

Negotiators agreed in June that U.S. beef exports to Japan could resume after Japan was allowed to examine all U.S. meatpacking facilities authorized by the U.S. government to ship to Japan to verify their compliance with agreed standards.  (See related article.)

Officials from Japan's ministries of Agriculture and Health concluded inspections of 35 U.S. beef processing plants July 22. 

"It is unfortunate that the trade resumption launched last December was cut short in January of this year," Johanns said.  "Nations need reasonable methods of addressing the inadvertent shipment of products that don't meet an importing country's specifications, without disrupting an entire trading relationship."

The United States is urging Japan to deal with noncompliant shipments on an individual basis rather than imposing blanket trade restrictions.  "The U.S. has such methods of addressing noncompliant shipments from Japan, as well as our other trading partners," Johanns said.

The agriculture secretary said he has invited Japanese government officials to meet in the fall for continued discussions on strengthening the beef trade relationship and implementing science-based trade guidelines.

"Science provides us with clear data upon which to build trading standards," he said.  "All of us must be mindful of these guidelines and work toward complying with them."

More information on U.S.-Japan beef trade is available on the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo's Web site.

The full text of Johanns' statement can be found on the Web site of the Department of Agriculture.  The full text of Schwab's remarks can be found on the USTR Web site.