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Slow Progress In Market Access For Beef In Japan

10 March 2011

US - US Trade Representative Ron Kirk expressed displeasure this week over slow progress in gaining market access for beef products in Asian countries such as Japan.

"We are exceptionally frustrated with the slow pace" at which Asian countries are complying with international health standards and lifting restrictions imposed on US beef products due to fears over mad cow disease, Mr Kirk said.

Stressing that American beef has been scientifically proven to be safe and meets international standards, Mr Kirk told the Senate Finance Committee, '"Our goal in every case, whether it's (South) Korea, whether it's China, whether it's Taiwan, whether it is Japan, is to have them comply with those international standards."

"We're negotiating with them trying to gain their compliance. We will continue to do that," the top US trade diplomat said.

He made the remarks in response to a question from Chuck Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, who voiced concern that Japan's possible participation in a trans-Pacific free trade accord could have a negative impact on US farmers if the beef issue is not resolved.

Japan plans to decide by June whether to join the negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership pact involving nine countries including the United States and Australia.

"I have serious concerns that any potential TPP agreement that includes Japan without a commitment to fully resolve this beef issue can unfairly harm US producers," Mr Grassley said.

While noting that Washington welcomed Tokyo's announcement of interest in the TPP talks last year, Mr Kirk said the United States will not wait for Japan's decision on whether to participate in the TPP negotiations in its efforts to seek greater market access for US beef products.

Japan has restricted beef imports from the United States since the first US case of the disease, formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, was discovered in 2003, and currently bans imports of US beef from cattle aged over 20 months.

In a related move, 27 bipartisan senators led by former Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns submitted a letter to President Barack Obama on Tuesday, in which they called on the US government to ask Japan to relax restrictions on US beef products as a precondition for its participation in the TPP talks.

"If Japan asks for inclusion in the TPP negotiations, we encourage you to press Japanese leaders to immediately relax its restrictions on US beef" to be fully consistent with guidelines of the World Organization for Animal Health, a copy of the letter said.

"Our beef industry has been unfairly targeted and restricted for far too long. Japan's restrictions are not based in science and irrationally punish one of our most competitive industries," Mr Johanns, a Republican from Nebraska, said in a statement.

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