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U.S. wants talks to start on Japan's beef import age limit

11 January 2007

JAPAN - U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab called on Japan on Wednesday to start talks later this year on easing its criteria for American beef imports, visiting Japanese farm minister Toshikatsu Matsuoka said.

Schwab made the pitch in a meeting with Matsuoka, saying proposed negotiations should start after May, when the World Organization for Animal Health, known commonly by the French acronym OIE, might give the United States official beef-safety status.

Once the talks are launched, the United States is expected to press Japan to raise the age limit on cattle slaughtered for its beef imports to 30 months from the current 20 or to even remove the age limit completely.

The age limit has been a point of controversy between Tokyo and Washington since Japan banned American beef imports after the first U.S. case of mad cow disease in the United States was discovered in December 2003.

The ban was lifted in December 2005 but reinstated the following month after a veal shipment from the United States that arrived at Narita airport was found to contain part of a backbone, a risk material banned under a bilateral agreement on beef trade.

The ban was removed again last July after Japanese government inspectors checked the safeguard measures used at meatpacking plants that the United States has certified as suppliers to Japan. ADVERTISEMENT

Matsuoka told reporters that it is difficult for Japan to agree to enter into the proposed negotiations with the United States, saying, "Ensuring the safety of Japanese people must come first."

He said the results of a six-month-long verification of U.S. beef exporters' observance of conditions Japan attached for resuming imports of U.S. beef last July have yet to be made available.

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Source: Kyodo News


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