This week, Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns had a bilateral meeting with Japan's minister of agriculture on the sidelines of WTO meetings. Johanns wants specifics, but said the minister didn't give him any.
"They keep talking about being in the final stages," Johanns says. "I sure as heck hope they are because the time has long since passed for me to ask Congress to continue to be patient."
Many members of Congress are growing anxious about the trading relationship and want to impose sanctions. Noting the risk to other U.S. agriculture exports to Japan if sanctions are imposed against Japan over the beef market closure, Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., sent a letter Oct. 7 to Johanns and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Portman urging them not to undertake any unilateral effort that could derail negotiations.
"We always have the option â€“ if we feel it is the absolute last recourse â€“ to institute economic sanctions. Now is not the time for that action,â€ he says, noting that he believes the U.S. is â€œvery closeâ€ to seeing the beef market reopened in Japan.
Although Japan purchased no U.S. beef last year, the country did import $8 billion in U.S. agricultural products. â€œOur agriculture producers cannot afford the possibility of having retaliatory economic sanctions imposed on these important commodities," Hagel says.