Officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) met in Tokyo last month with their counterparts from the Japanese ministries of health and agriculture to begin talks aimed at expanding access for U.S. beef exports to Japan, according to a USDA spokeswoman.
The talks would establish a new import protocol that allows U.S. producers to ship beef from cattle up to 30 months of age to Japan instead of the current 20 month limit. The new protocol would also include a looser definition of specified risk materials (SRMs) that must be removed from beef shipments to Japan (Inside U.S. Trade, Nov. 23).
Japan's Food Safety Commission in October recommended these two changes for beef imports from the U.S. and three other trading partners, paving the way for the Japanese government to open talks with those countries on new import protocols.
During the talks held the week of Nov. 26, U.S. and Japanese officials agreed on measures to verify the age of cattle and removal of SRMs, but were unable to reach a mutually agreeable outcome on the so-called commercial viability provisions of the import protocol, according to a Japanese official.
These more contentious provisions lay out the steps that Japan will take if a beef shipment from the U.S. is found to violate the age or SRM requirements, and the U.S. is likely pushing for Japan to agree to a narrower response than in the current import protocol.
Currently, if Japan finds an SRM in a shipment from the U.S., it suspends further shipments from the facility where the beef originated. But the U.S. likely wants to Japan to agree in the new protocol to limit its response to discarding the affected shipment instead of cutting off further exports from the facility in question.
In a Dec. 12 e-mail, the USDA spokeswoman hinted at the importance to the U.S. of a strong outcome on commercial viability. "As we have consistently stated, the U.S. government seeks to expand access for U.S. beef producers in Japan in a manner that is based on science, consistent with international standards, and commercially viable," she said.
USDA's delegation to Tokyo last month included officials from the department's Agricultural Marketing Service, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Foreign Agricultural Service, and Food Safety and Inspection Service, according to the spokeswoman.
The Japanese official said both sides have followed up with conference calls after the Tokyo meeting, but that the talks would likely make little headway during the upcoming holiday season.