There are nettlesome trade matters in other parts of Asia ... most notably the U.S. beef trade with Japan. The U.S. has resumed about 91 percent of the beef exports that existed before the 2003 discovery of Mad Cow disease in Washington. But Japan's borders remain closed.
In part, the efforts to pry open such markets hinge on adequate tracking and monitoring systems for livestock. To that end, there was action taken in North America this week that could impact future trade.
Currently, most Canadian cattle are tagged with bar code ear tags. The new system will involve radio frequency identification, or RFID. The RFID tags are less likely to be removed accidentally, and will be used to track cattle from one farm to the next, and through processing.
The Alberta government called its decision to mandate an animal ID system, "a first in North America."
The U.S. Agriculture Department also is implementing an animal ID system, but at this point, the program is voluntary. And officials with the National Cattlemen's Beef Association would like it to stay that way.
Mike John, NCBA President-Elect: "The best animal id program will be driven by demand and will be a value-added program. In other words, it will be voluntary. People will participate because there is a return and those returns will actually finance the effort that you have to go through in order to do the source verification and the animal tracking."
In addition to the animal ID program, USDA is scheduled to implement a mandatory country of origin labeling law, or COOL, next year. But that plan was dealt another setback this week.
On Monday, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture voted to postpone implementation of the mandatory program in fiscal year 2006. Subcommittee Chairman Henry Bonilla said the delay was made to develop a bill replacing mandatory COOL with a voluntary program. The Texas Republican called the plan to launch a mandatory program a "nightmare."
Congress approved mandatory COOL as part of the 2002 Farm Bill, but the program has yet to be implemented. It was scheduled to begin in September of 2006, but will be delayed again if Congress approves the bill in its current form.