Sunday, October 20

US, Japan agree to resume talks on beef import restrictions

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TOKYO: The United States and Japan agreed yesterday to resume talks on Japanese restrictions on American beef imports, although both sides maintained their different positions on the thorny issue.

TRADE TALKS: Vilsack (left) shakes hands with Akamatsu prior to their talks in Tokyo. — AFP photo

TRADE TALKS: Vilsack (left) shakes hands with Akamatsu prior to their talks in Tokyo. — AFP photo

The talks, announced by US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and his Japanese counterpart Hirotaka Akamatsu after a meeting, will be the first beef talks in three years.

Japan, which used to be the largest buyer of US beef, stopped the imports after a case of mad cow disease was detected in an American herd in late 2003, and has only resumed limited imports since then.

While Japan now sources most of its beef from Australia, it resumed imports of cattle under 20 months of age from the United States in 2006, while maintaining a ban on high-risk parts such as brains and spinal materials.

President Barack Obama has urged a broad export push to revitalise the world’s biggest economy, and US pressure has grown for Japan to further ease its restrictions, which farm-state lawmakers label scientifically unfounded.

Vilsack, after meeting Akamatsu in Tokyo, said: “This issue remains a high priority for the United States, and the US objective remains a framework that is consistent with science and international standards.”

Tokyo and Washington 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 US beef and beef products”, Vilsack said.

Akamatsu told reporters after the meeting that “we have maintained our basic stance on food security and safety from a scientific viewpoint.”

But Japan’s agriculture minister also said he had “absolutely no objections to holding talks at the political and bureaucrat level since the Japan-US relationship is very important”.

Washington-Tokyo ties have been strained by a row over where to relocate a controversial US military base, and some commentators in Japan have detected anti-Japanese bias in the US handling of Toyota’s mass safety recalls.

Akamatsu said the two countries had yet to map out any timetable for fresh dialogue on the beef issue.

“It totally depends on their requests. It’s not an issue in which we should take the initiative,” he said.

Akamatsu, who has repeatedly rejected any immediate change in the government’s beef import rules, said: “We have to handle the case patiently.

I’m aware that the beef issue is very important for America.” During his visit Vilsack signalled Washington was ready to take a flexible approach, a change from the heated rhetoric under former US president George W. Bush, when US farm state lawmakers demanded sanctions against Japan. — AFP