In the beef trade, the ties that bind are slightly different. Lucrative markets were closed at home and abroad when mad cow disease was discovered in Canada and the United States in recent months. Now, U.S. beef interests are pressing hard to get the Canadian border reopened to live cattle IMPORTS, while at the same time leaning on Japan to reopen its markets to American beef EXPORTS.
For U.S. negotiators, it's a tightrope act, governed in part by judicial uncertainty ... and in part by foreign intransigence.
USDA officials contend an influx of Canadian beef would increase production and financially support meat packers. Processors have cut their workforce due to the lack of cattle from Canada. But meat packers should not expect any congressional intervention before the July trial. A spokesman for U.S. House Agriculture Committee Chairman, Bob Goodlatte, says the congressman has no plans to take legislative action. Goodlatte plans to let the issue work its way through federal court.
A recently released report by Kansas State University estimates U.S. beef industry losses from the border closing at roughly $4 billion per year.
American attempts to open up the Canadian border are closely linked to U.S. trade efforts with Japan. On Thursday, Japan's ruling party endorsed a proposal to lift the country's costly ban on U.S. beef imports. The recommendation from Japan's Food Safety Commission suggests waiving tests for mad cow disease on domestic cattle younger than 21 months. The move could bolster the U.S. beef industry but American officials do not expect swift action from the Tokyo government. Japanese officials claim a long approval process prevents them from declaring a date for resumed shipments. Meanwhile, some American officials are proposing sanctions on Japan if the December 2003 ban is not lifted.
On Thursday, Japan's government confirmed the country's 18th case of mad cow disease.