December 30, 2003


Japan Rejects Request To Lift Beef Import Ban


Japan have rejected a U.S. delegation's request to lift the prevailing ban on American beef. Japanese authorities insist that the facts surrounding the discovery of mad cow disease in the United States should first be established before any action is taken.


A U.S. official played down the discord, however, saying the meeting here was intended primarily to brief Japanese authorities on efforts in the U.S. to investigate the case.


Japan - which bought more than $1 billion of U.S. beef last year - was one of more than two dozen nations that suspended imports after a cow in Washington state tested positive for the brain-wasting bovine disease last week.


A delegation from the U.S. Department of Agriculture led by David Hegwood, a trade adviser to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, asked to discuss lifting of the ban in a meeting with Japanese officials in Tokyo, an official said on condition of anonymity.


"First we have to confirm the facts, so it's too early to have such a discussion," the Japanese official told reporters after the meeting.


A U.S. official said that neither side had made any "demands," and that most of the meeting was spent discussing efforts to investigate the route of infection, which has been tentatively traced to Canada. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, did not elaborate.


The delegation also raised the possibility that the U.S.  would soon announce more stringent safety measures.


Hegwood explained that the current U.S. testing system was "very effective" but said officials were "looking at everything we can to make it even better," the U.S. official said.


Japanese media have reported that government officials in Tokyo want the U.S. to adopt more stringent screening of its herds. After the bovine disease was first detected in Japan more than two years ago, this country adopted a policy of testing every cow before it is slaughtered.


Hegwood appeared to rule out that option in response to a reporter's question after the meeting.


"We do not think that 100% testing, such as Japan has, is warranted in any country," he said.


Japan said it plans to send an agricultural delegation on a fact-finding mission to the U.S. in early January.


When Canada found its lone case of mad cow disease in May, Japan had threatened then to cut off American exports because the U.S. and Canada have traded cattle extensively.


The U.S. imported 298,000 cattle from Canada in 2001, the same year that the sick cow ended up in Washington. But live cattle trade between the two nations has declined since. From January to October this year, the U.S. shipped in just 60,000 cattle from Canada. U.S. officials ended live cattle trade with Canada in May because of the mad cow case in the Canadian province of Alberta.


USDA officials have said the delegation in Japan also will likely visit other Asian nations.


The U.S. sold $1.03 billion of beef, veal, prepared beef products and variety meats to Japan in 2002, accounting for about 32% of total exports, U.S. government figures show.

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