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Senators Call for End of Beef Embargo in Letter to Japanese Ambassador

Legislators threatened retaliatory economic actions against Japan if issue is not addressed.

A bipartisan group of 19 senators sent a letter to Ryozo Kato, Japanese Ambassador to the United States, urging the Japanese government to end their trade embargo.

"Our Government has acted in good faith with Japanese officials to implement appropriate safeguards using internationally recognized science," the senators said in the letter. "Regrettably, these attempts have been rejected repeatedly by some in your government who are intent on stopping any resolution of this issue by using unrealistic requirements and dubious science."

Within days of the announcement in December 2003 that a Washington State dairy cow tested positive for BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) most importing countries halted imports of some or all U.S. beef and cattle. Of the major markets, both Mexico and Canada have reopened their borders to some U.S. beef and veal. Japan and Korea remain closed. Prior to the December 2003 finding, Japan was the leading importer of United States beef.

Cattle production accounts for 20% of U.S. farm sales annually. Exports of U.S. beef and other cattle products are critical to long-term market growth. The value of beef and beef variety meat exports was estimated at $3.9 billion in 2003 (or about 10% of farm value for cattle/calves). Four countries bought approximately 90% of these exports: Japan ($1.394 billion), South Korea ($816 million), Mexico ($877 million), and Canada ($331 million).

"In light of this situation," the senators say, "if the Japanese government fails to lift the ban expeditiously, we are afraid that the U.S. Congress may pursue equitable, retaliatory economic actions against Japan."

South Korea not willing to move forward

Many negotiators have been confused by South Korea's unwillingness to move forward on trade resumption. Unlike Japan who has faced a backlash from consumers after it's handful of BSE cases, South Korea remains BSE-free.

News reports quote a senior South Korean agriculture official saying that Seoul has not intention of rushing to reopen its borders to American beef. says that South Korea's Director of the Animal Health Division of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry Kim Chang-seob, says "Seoul will demand inspection of U.S. farms and processing plants by not only government officials and technical experts, but by civic groups as well," the Web article says.

In a recent meeting between top ag officials from the U.S. and S. Korea, experts from South Korea stressed the concern of consumer safety. Korea's Yonhap news agency reports that Kim indicates the bilateral talks between the two nations will take more time than that required with Japan.

Another meeting is scheduled between the two nations in late March.


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