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US Criticize Japan for Continued Beef Imports Ban

U.S. Lawmakers Criticize Japan for Continued Ban on Beef Imports

Officials frustrated by "glacial speed" of Japan's movement to open market

By Anthony Kujawa
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington – Removing Japan’s ban on U.S. beef imports remains a “top priority” of the Bush administration and officials are growing increasingly frustrated by the “glacial speed” with which Japan is moving to reopen its market, officials say.

Testifying before a September 28 House Committee on Ways and Means hearing on U.S.-Japan economic relations, U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service Administrator A. Ellen Terpstra said that “the time to take action has long past” and that Japan’s assurances they are working to reopen their market to U.S. beef “ring hollow.”

At issue is Japan’s ban on U.S. beef and beef products since December 2003, when a single case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, or mad cow disease) in an 8-year-old cow imported into the United States from Canada was detected.

On October 23, 2004, Japan and the United States developed and agreed to a framework to allow the resumption of U.S. beef exports to Japan.

Lawmakers and U.S. trade officials have expressed increasing frustration over Japan’s failure to lift its ban on U.S. beef. U.S. beef exports to Japan were valued at $1.4 billion in 2003.

In opening remarks, Wendy Cutler, assistant U.S. trade representative for Japan, Korea and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation affairs, said that over the years the U.S.-Japan trade relationship “has grown from one dominated by acrimony to one where we are increasingly working together to find win-win solutions where possible.”

But, she told lawmakers, “We share your frustration over the glacial speed with which Japan has been moving to reopen its market to U.S. beef. We have repeatedly and consistently engaged Japan at all levels on this issue.”

Terpstra said reopening the Japanese market to U.S. beef has received the “highest attention” within the U.S. government and that the Bush administration has worked “diligently from the outset to restore this market.”

The United States has responded to requests for information, hosted several technical teams from Japan, and sent its own experts to Japan, thus transmitting “huge amounts” of scientific information to the Japanese government on the safety of U.S. beef, the officials said.

Cutler told the lawmakers that Japan’s Food Safety Commission (FSC), the agency charged with conducting a risk assessment on the safety of U.S. beef, “appears to be in the final stages of its deliberations.” After the FSC completes its work, she said, “we understand that will initiate a 30-day public comment period, followed by a reopening of the market shortly thereafter.”

The United States has emphasized the need for Japan to use “science-based decision-making,” adhere to guidelines of the international standard-setting body, the World Animal Health Organization, and remove its restrictions on U.S. beef, in accordance with the World Trade Organization's sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures.

Terpstra said the United States has urged Japan to complete its review of import rules “expeditiously” and take “prompt action” to reopen its market to U.S. beef.

“By any reasonable measure, Japan has had ample time to reach a conclusion to this issue. We will continue to press hard on Japan at all levels until it does the right thing in line with science and fully reopens its market to U.S. beef,” the assistant trade representative said.

In a special appearance before the committee, Congressman Jerry Moran, a Republican from Kansas who serves on the House Committee on Agriculture, said that U.S. cattle and beef industries are losing $100 million each month Japan remains closed to U.S. beef.

“Japan cannot have it both ways. They cannot benefit from exports to the U.S. while denying our imports, such as beef, with no scientific evidence to support their actions. Congressional patience has been exhausted,” Moran said, urging fellow lawmakers to support House Resolution 137. The nonbinding resolution, which Moran said currently has 80 cosponsors, is a sense of the House of Representatives that if the Japan continues to delay in meeting its obligations under the October 23, 2004, framework agreement with the United States, the U.S. trade representative immediately should impose retaliatory economic measures on Japan.

“I support our government’s efforts to reopen our beef exports to Japan but the Japanese continue to unjustifiably delay the process,” he said.

In the Senate, an amendment was added September 20 to the fiscal year 2006 agriculture spending bill that would prohibit use of funds to develop a final rule allowing Japanese beef exports. The Senate also has expressed that the United States should not permit imports of beef from Japan until lifts its ban on U.S. beef.

Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas said “too much of our relationship with Japan is about waiting for tomorrow.”

“Pick your cliché: ‘Tomorrow is forever,’ or ‘Tomorrow never comes.’ Either one pretty well represents the [trade] relationship we’ve had with Japan.”

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