Japan-U.S. beef trade takes step forward

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WASHINGTON – After nearly a year of negotiations, U.S. and Japanese trade officials concluded an agreement Oct. 23 that paves the way for resumption of beef trade between the two countries.
Trade to Japan halted after a case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease, was found in a cow in Washington state last December.
Cattle and beef export sales to Japan exceeded $1.7 billion in 2003 before the border was closed.
Temporary. The agreement allows beef trade to resume under a “special marketing program,” said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman.
The parties will review that program after six months, with an eye toward returning trade to more normal patterns.
“This is a very important milestone in our returning to normal after finding the case of BSE in the United States,” Veneman said.
“It’s extremely important for our livestock producers and the entire beef industry.”
Big market. In terms of cattle prices, the Japanese export market represents $60 per head on fed cattle and $12 per hundredweight for producers who raise calves, according to National Cattlemen’s Beef Association economist Gregg Doud.
“Traditionally, one-third of our beef exports have gone to Japan,” Doud said.
But the products are different than what we consume here in the United States, he added.
“The types of beef products we export to Japan command a much higher price than what they can be sold for in the United States.”
Still more work. The news doesn’t mean the United States will instantly regain its same market share in Japan, experts caution.
The agreement calls for the re-establishment of a beef verification program similar to what was in place in 2003, but with new requirements, according to the U.S. Meat Export Federation.
Federation president Philip Seng said the agreement appears to allow the United States to export beef and beef products from cattle under 20 months of age, based on production record age verification.
Age verification. Animals or animal products included must be traceable to live animal production records that indicate they are 20 months or younger at the time of slaughter.
Records must have at least one of the following: Individual animal age verification; group age verification; insemination age verification; or USDA process verified animal ID.
Longer term, he said, the United States will have to study other methods of accurately determining age and, with Japanese agreement, move to alternate age determination methods.
On to Korea. The U.S. trade delegation is ready to move on to Taiwan and Korea for talks with these governments, aimed at reopening trade there, too.

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