President Obama received a letter from 27 U.S. Senators offering support of the administration's efforts to expand the presence of U.S. businesses and exports in the Asia-Pacific region through the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Most recently, Japan expressed interest in joining the TPP, causing policymakers to extend cautious optimism to the president. First of all, the senators noted the importance of expanding market access into important economies such as Japan, but they also referred to the history of the U.S., Japan trade relationship.
The letter said it is also encouraging that the leaders of the Japanese government have expressed their interest in joining the TPP and thus eliminating their tariff and non-tariff trade barriers to U.S. goods and services. The Senators object to Japan's action of discriminating against U.S. beef imports with restrictions that are inconsistent with international standards and not based on scientific criteria.
In their letter the senators wrote, "If Japan asks for inclusion in the TPP negotiations, we encourage you to press Japanese leaders to immediately relax its restrictions on U.S. beef to be fully consistent with OIE guidelines and reopen its market. At the very least, Japan should agree to immediately relax its age restrictions to 30 months and address other issues necessary to achieve a commercially-viable, science-based import protocol, while also laying a clear pathway for eventual full OIE compliance."
Japan closed its market to U.S. beef in December of 2003, after the discovery of a Canadian-born cow infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy in the United States. At that time, Japan was the largest export market for U.S. beef, valued at $1.4 billion dollars. Since then, Japan has had restrictions in place on U.S. beef imports and currently only allows imports of beef from cattle aged 20 months and younger.
National Cattlemen's Beef Association Manager of Legislative Affairs Kent Baucus says the Japanese restrictions put U.S. cattlemen and women at a competitive disadvantage without any science-based rationale. He says the trade barriers Japan has in place on U.S. beef appear to be motivated by something other than science.
"The United States hasn't taken this lightly," Baucus said. "We have multiple safeguards currently in place that have prevented BSE from taking hold in our country. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has aggressively enhanced its BSE surveillance system since 1990, testing at levels forty times higher than recommended by the World Organization for Animal Health."