In a deal which failed to resolve several contentious issues, the United States and Japan this week reached a conditional agreement to reopen Japan's borders to imports of U.S. beef. A key sticking point was what to do if banned cattle parts turn up in U.S. beef shipments to Japan. In such a case, the U.S. argued Japan should institute a partial ban and halt shipments only from the U.S. facility that violated the rules. The Japanese want the ability to call for a full import ban on American beef if it finds trade violations. In the end, the two sides settled on vague language that called for appropriate measures to be taken, depending on the nature of the violation. Despite the unanswered questions, the deal was seen as a breakthrough for the U.S. cattle industry and for the USDA, but that's not to say everyone is satisfied with the agreement.
To state the obvious, progress has been slow in resolving the trade dispute with Japan over reopening its border to U.S. beef.
Earlier this week USDA and Japanese officials held two videoconference sessions resulting in an agreement Secretary Mike Johanns described as "... another step toward the resumption of beef trade with Japan."
In the meetings, Japan agreed to reopen its market to U.S. after its own team of auditors inspects 35 U.S. beef processing facilities that are authorized to export to Japan.
This delay has frustrated many ... including those in Congress.
Senator Byron Dorgan, (D) North Dakota: "The message very simply is, we mean business. We're tired of one way trade agreements and we're tired of being treated unfairly in international trade. We have an 82 billion dollar trade deficit with Japan. It is unbelievable that they have drug their feet in reopening their market to American beef."
Echoing that sentiment, Dorgan's fellow North Dakotan senator, Democrat Kent Conrad laid out a scenario of legislative action. He and Kansas Republican Senator Pat Roberts this week introduced a bill that states if Japan does not re-open its market by August 31, the Treasury Secretary would be directed to impose tariffs on Japanese products.
Sync Senator Kent Conrad, (D) North Dakota: "We will have no choice but to introduce this legislation to require Japan to pay the cost of the negative impact they're having on U.S. beef producers. We have calculated that cost at something over 3 Billion dollars and so we would impose tariffs on Japanese products coming into this country in that amount."
The USDA announced Japanese health and agricultural officials will begin arriving in the U.S. this weekend. A schedule of inspections was not announced, but USDA said Japan officials expect to complete their work by July 21.