Japanese, U.S. farm ministers to resume stalled talks on beef trade

15:02, April 08, 2010      

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Stalled discussions between Japanese and U.S. agriculture ministers over Tokyo's restrictions on U.S. beef imports will be resumed, Japanese Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Hirotaka Akamatsu said Thursday.

The discussions, sparked by concerns about mad cow disease in the U.S., broke down three-years ago and Japan has since banned imports of U.S. beef from cattle aged over 20 months.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, for his part during the meeting in Tokyo, proposed a transitional solution to address the issue including easing the limits on U.S. beef imports for meat from cattle aged 20 months or younger, said Akamatsu who also highlighted the fact that Washington is prepared to take a flexible approach on the issue.

In a statement, Vilsack said that both himself and Akamatsu " share the view that U.S. and Japanese officials will continue the dialogue through a series of senior and working level meetings in order to establish a mutually agreeable framework for the import conditions for U.S. beef and beef products."

The U.S. agriculture secretary pointed to the Washington's commitment to seeking a "framework that is consistent with science and international standards."

However, Akamatsu conceded that the two countries "remain apart " at the moment and discussions going forward may be problematic. Akamatsu believes the U.S. may have in mind the idea of Tokyo lifting the age limit by allowing imports of beef from cattle aged less than 30 months.

Japan was the top importer of U.S. beef, buying 240,000 tons valued at 1.4 billion U.S. dollars in 2003. However, after the discovery of the first case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy ( BSE) in the U.S. on December 23, 2003, Japan stopped U.S. beef imports in the same month.

In December 2005, Japan once again allowed imports of U.S. beef, but reinstated its ban in 2006 after a technical violation of the U.S.-Japan beef import agreement -- a vertebral column, which should have been removed prior to shipment, was included in a shipment of veal.

Under a bilateral accord, U.S. beef exporters to Japan are required to remove such risk materials, which include vertebral columns and brains, which scientists believe carry the neurodegenerative disease.

Source: Xinhua


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