The united efforts of the Kansas Congressional delegation and Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius may have helped pave the way for Japan to resume beef trade with the United States, which Japan announced Tuesday it would do.
Beef exports to Japan could resume as early as the end of July.
"This is great news for Kansas beef producers who have waited many long months for this market to reopen," Sebelius says. "I welcome the news as much as any Kansas rancher or beef processor."
While many of the details of the export agreement have not been publicized, Sebelius says she is confident Japanese consumers are ready to buy Kansas beef.
"From my own visit to Japan in 2004, I learned that Japanese consumers equate Kansas with producing high-quality beef," she says. "It's a well-deserved reputation that we earned by producing a consistent product."
In the year before Japan instituted its ban on American beef, the nation imported $175.1 million worth of Kansas beef. The ban came after the United States diagnosed two cows with bovine spongiform encephalopathy.
"The United States has been very proactive about taking steps to prevent BSE in American cattle," Sebelius says. "Our international customers can be confident they are getting safe, wholesome beef."
Sebelius says she will provide whatever assistance is needed to ensure that Kansas beef is among the first shipments to Japan. She also will continue to offer help to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns to get American beef into other Asian markets.
"Japan's action will likely spur other Asian nations to re-open their markets," Sebelius says. "Kansas is a top beef producing state, and I will continue to encourage USDA to be aggressive in regaining access to these important markets."
Sen. Sam Brownback, also thrilled at Japan's decision, is cautious.
"This is not the first time Japan has said it will re-open its market, and I will closely follow the progress of the final round of inspections so that we can bring a quick and expeditious end to this unfortunate trade stalemate," Brownback said in a statement Wednesday.
Japan initially announced it would re-open its market to American beef in December 2005, but after an isolated incident in January, Japan closed its markets again. Since Japan first closed its market to U.S. beef imports over two years ago, the USDA has tested over 500,000 cattle for BSE. The USDA has found and confirmed only one case.
Brownback said in the statement that he supports legislation promising trade sanctions if Japan does not follow through on its promise. "The trade legislation I support takes into account Japan's announcement and provides a window for the proposed inspections to be completed."
Brownback met last March with Japanese Ambassador Ryozo Kato and visited to Japan in January 2004 to discuss the safety of U.S. beef with government officials. In 2004 Brownback hosted a Japanese technical team at a Kansas beef ranch and processing plant to highlight the quality and safety of U.S. beef.