April 21, 2005
Japan Still Bans U.S. Beef, Chafing American Officials
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/04/21/business/worldbusiness/21beef.html?th=&emc=th&pagewanted=print&position=  (must register to view original article)

TOKYO, April 20 - Where's the American beef? That's a question more and more American officials and many Japanese consumers are asking here.

Six months after American negotiators thought they had a deal to resume beef exports to Japan, historically the largest foreign market for American ranchers, this $1.2-billion-a-year market remains closed, as a result of a single case of mad cow disease detected in Washington State in December 2003.

But Japan's barriers to American beef are now drawing heavy fire in Congress, conjuring up a 1980's-style battle over American export access to Japan. Partly because of earlier battles, Japan bought about one-third of American beef exports in 2003, the last year of imports.

Members of Congress "don't want this issue to boil over into the larger relationship," J. Thomas Schaeffer, the new American ambassador here, warned Monday in his first news conference. Calling on Japanese to "divorce the emotion from the science," he noted: "After all, 300 million Americans are eating that beef every day, and there are no health concerns in the United States."

Next week, a delegation of American specialists is to arrive here from Washington to testify about measures taken in the last 15 months to prevent new cases of the fatal brain-wasting disease, bovine spongiform encephalopathy, as mad cow disease is formally known. But late summer looks like the earliest that Japan's food safety bureaucracy might reopen doors to American beef.

In Japan, polls show that a majority are in no rush to open to American imports. "I hope Japan will import American beef only when it is confirmed safe enough," Kayo Mochizuki, a housewife, said Wednesday.

The centerpiece of the American effort is a federal agriculture program that has increased mad cow testing from 20,000 animals a year in 2003 to a forecast for 500,000 this year. No infected cows have been detected since the lone case, a 6-year-old Canadian-born cow, was found 16 months ago. In contrast, 17 infected cows have been detected in Japan since August 2001, the latest two weeks ago.

But Japan tests all cows that are slaughtered. The United States plans to test about 14 percent of cows slaughtered this year, focusing on the oldest animals, which are most at risk. Last October, American officials say, Japan agreed to resume imports of beef from cows under 21 months, an age group not deemed to be at risk from the disease.

"It is spilling over from an agricultural issue to a trade issue, which is unfortunate," Howard H. Baker Jr., who stepped down as ambassador here in February, said in a news conference. Referring to the beef ban, he said, "I tried very hard to bring that thing to closure, and three times, at least, maybe more, I thought we had."

Pressure on Japan started in February when 20 senators, largely from Republican-dominated Western states, threatened "retaliatory actions against Japan" in a letter to Japan's ambassador in Washington, Rizzo Kato. The letter noted that Japan's tire exports to the United States were roughly the same value as American 2003 beef exports to Japan.

Talking to Japanese reporters after meeting April 6 with 22 members of the House of Representatives, Ambassador Kato said: "I felt their growing frustration firsthand. I also felt that anything could happen if the current situation persists."

In Congress, support is growing for resolutions warning Japan to reopen its market to American beef. If not, the Senate text says, "the United States trade representative should immediately impose retaliatory economic measures against Japan." The House text warns that Japan is "putting a long and profound bilateral trading history at risk."

Japan's ban on American beef imports dominated Mr. Schaeffer's confirmation hearing in Washington in early March. Senators approved Mr. Schaeffer, evidently seeing a reliable ally in this former state legislator from Texas, the nation's largest beef-producing state.

"All these are red states, and that's why President Bush is so concerned," John E. Car Baugh Jr., a political consultant, said here Monday, running his finger down a list of Republican majority states.

Fearing political damage, President Bush made a telephone call to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi of Japan in early March. The two leaders, allies in Iraq, talked about American beef, aides later told reporters. Later in March, the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, visited here and devoted more of her comments to American beef than to North Korean bombs.

Speaking privately, American diplomats here charged that Japan failed to live up to a deal reached last October to open up to American beef. According to the Americans, Japan promised to loosen its testing rule and allow imports of beef from untested cows under 21 months. A Japanese official working on the beef issue elaborated Monday in an interview: "The Japanese government also thinks that early resumption of the beef trade is important. But it is directly related to the food safety issue, and, in Japan, people are very sensitive on the food safety issue."

But judging by crowds of Japanese diners last month at the Outback Steakhouse in Guam, there is a minority who want to eat American beef. Some diners say American beef is cheaper and tastier than Australian beef, often the alternative. .

Indeed, nearly 1.2 million Japanese consumers signed a petition last month calling for the resumption of beef imports from the United States. In February, when the Yoshiro D & C Company, the nation's largest "beef bowl" chain, drew on its stocks of frozen American beef for a one-day offering of its gyudon shredded beef on rice, the restaurant chain sold 1.5 million meals in six hours.

A Rise in Japan's Exports

TOKYO, Thursday, April 21 (Reuters) - Japan's exports grew by more than expected in March, with shipments to China rebounding after their first drop in three years in February. But the rise failed to brighten the outlook for Japan's export-reliant economy.

Exports to China were up 5.8 percent from a year earlier, rebounding after a 2.3 percent drop in February but still well below the torrid pace of around 30 percent growth seen last year. Japan's global exports in March were up 6.2 percent from a year earlier, compared with a consensus market forecast for a 5 percent gain, and they rose 1.9 percent from February on a seasonally adjusted basis, the Ministry of Finance data showed.