Three Asian Nations Urged To Open Markets Fully to U.S. Beef

Washington - Recent moves by Japan, South Korea and Malaysia to ease restrictions on imports of U.S. beef are welcome but those countries must take further action to reopen their markets fully, U.S. officials say.

"We are pressing for clear, aggressive timelines from our trading partners that demonstrate their commitment to internationally-agreed upon" animal health standards, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Mike Johanns said in a June 13 statement.

"Science provides us with clear data upon which international trading standards were built. All of our trading partners must be mindful of these guidelines and work toward complying with them," Johanns said.

Another U.S. official told USINFO that the talks with the three countries are at different stages, but are "moving ahead correctly." The greatest progress has been in the Japanese market, the official said.

While officials would not comment on what the specific timetable might be, U.S. industry has made clear that it has to be by the end of 2007 for greater access to be achieved.

In May, the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) formally classified the United States as a "controlled risk," or negligible risk country, for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also known as mad cow disease.

The Paris-based, intergovernmental OIE analyses latest scientific information on animal diseases. Its animal health and public health standards are recognized by the World Trade Organization (WTO).

South Korea recently agreed to resume imports of U.S. boneless beef. Regulatory details still need to be worked out and complicating this effort have been several shipments to Korea by U.S. companies of beef that does not conform to existing agreements.

Among the details to be worked out, for example, is whether a chip of bone found in a U.S. shipment would lead to rejecting the whole shipment or just the box where the chip was found.

Ultimately, the United States expects both beef on the bone and boneless beef to be allowed into South Korea, the official said.

While the beef talks are separate negotiations from those related to a U.S.-South Korea free-trade agreement (FTA), the U.S. official reiterated what many in Congress have said: unless the Korean beef market is more fully opened to U.S. exports, the FTA “will never get through Congress.”

The Bush administration plans to submit to Congress, by June 30, the South Korea FTA concluded April 1, a spokesman from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) told USINFO. The president’s trade promotion authority (TPA) expires June 30.

TPA allows the president to submit free-trade agreements to Congress for an up or down vote, without amendments. Congress will have 90 days to consider the agreement. (See related article.)

Then, as Congress reviews specifics of the agreement, South Korea would have time to make technical and regulatory changes, the spokesperson said.

Japan said June 13 that it would stop checking all U.S. beef shipments after it recently determined that the U.S. meat inspection system is "effective," Johanns said.

Japan also said it would adopt science-based standards for approving all agricultural imports, a move the United States welcomes, U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab said in a June 6 statement.

USTR and USDA officials did not give specific time frames of when beef trade talks with Japan would resume. But according to news reports, Japan has no immediate plans to relax its conditions for imports of U.S. beef.

Malaysia June 13 also said it had agreed to import U.S. beef following OIE guidelines, Johanns said.

"Any nation that recognizes the OIE standards now has no scientific reason to block imports of U.S. beef," Bruce Knight, under secretary of agriculture for marketing and regulatory programs, told U.S. livestock traders June 14.

Seventy-five of the more than 119 countries that had restricted U.S. beef imports now have re-established trade in some or all U.S. beef, according to a June fact sheet from the advocacy group American Farm Bureau Federation.

The full text of Johans’ June 13 statement is available on the USDA Web site.