Japan has agreed to lift its ban on U.S. beef imports if pending planned American meat processing plants check out.
June 20 and 21, the Government of Japan and the Government of the United States held a digital video conference on unresolved trade issues. As a result of these consultations, the two governments shared an understanding of measures needed and the implementation import procedures.
USDA Secretary Mike Johanns says Japanese audit teams will arrive in the U.S. this weekend and conclude their work by July 21. Upon completion of the audits, Japan has agreed to expeditiously resume beef trade. Johanns says these audits must constitute the final step in negotiations. "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," he says.
He again stressed the importance of Japan approving all plants that have met U.S. requirements to export beef to Japan at the same time. "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," Johanns says.
Johanns says he does not expect minor noncompliance issues to disrupt the entire trading relationship. "Japan has agreed to notify us of such issues and discuss the appropriate course, such as the rejection of individual shipments, if appropriate," he states.
A story in Meatingplace.com says the marketing agreement reached Wednesday permitting U.S. beef back in Japan again in early July, calls for Japanese meat inspectors to return to the United States Saturday and begin about 30 days of inspections of U.S. plants.
The two governments had clashed over what Japan would do if the United States sends another shipment of beef with banned material, as it did last year with a shipment of veal that contained spinal material. Japan wanted to suspend the violating plant from further export; the United States held that the shipment should simply be returned and, for the moment, appears to have won that concession.
Under the agreement, Japan will be allowed to send inspectors along on USDA surprise inspections of exporting plants, and said it will carefully check every shipment of beef as it enters the country.
Cattle industry skeptical of agreement
Terry Stokes, National Cattlemen's Beef Association Chief Executive Officer, says "after years of empty promises and continued delays, U.S. beef producers remain skeptical of Japan's dependability as a trading partner."
Stokes says NCBA will continue to insist on science-based standards. Under the current agreement, there remains no language to provide for the export of bone-in product or for beef from animals between 20 and 30 months of age. "The United States meets or exceeds all guidelines established by the World Organization for Animal Health to freely export beef and beef products from cattle aged 30 months and less. Japan's requirement of boneless beef from cattle aged 20 months and less is an artificial and unscientific barrier to trade," he says.
Although NCBA remains hopeful these issues can be worked out over time, "we know from experience that Japan has become an unreliable trading partner," Stokes says.
Sens. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and Kent Conrad, D-N.D., plan to introduce legislation today (Wednesday) calling for tariffs on Japanese exports if Japan does not open its borders to U.S. beef. "Our preference is that trade will resume under fair and reliable guidelines, and that these measures will not be necessary. But based on past experience, we cannot be confident this will happen," Stokes says, adding NCBA supports the legislative action taken.